RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Some parents are playing catch-up on required vaccines as students head back to school. 

ImmunizeVA Senior Program Manager Rebecca Epstein said now is the time to make sure your kids are up-to-date to defend against preventable disease outbreaks. 

That’s especially true since Virginia updated its requirements last summer and the coronavirus pandemic delayed routine shots for some families, according to Epstein. 

“Nationally, we saw over 10 million doses of missed vaccines for adolescents just because of challenges with the pandemic, scheduling appointments, availability of appointments. So we’re still playing catch up even though these are not new this year,” Epstein said.

Despite backlash from some parents, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill requiring the state to adopt school and daycare vaccine requirements as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

That resulted in several additions that took effect July 1, 2021.

 “A lot of parents might have been caught off guard,” Epstein said. 

Here’s a breakdown of the changes from the Virginia Department of Health: 

  • Hepatitis A (HAV): Students need a minimum of 2 doses of Hepatitis A vaccine. The first dose should be administered at age 12 months or older.
  • Rotavirus: This vaccine is required ONLY for children less than 8 months of age. Effective July 1, 2021, 2 or 3 doses of Rotavirus Vaccine (dependent upon the manufacturer) is required.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): A complete series of 2 doses of HPV vaccine is required for students entering the 7th grade. The first dose shall be administered before the child enters the 7th grade. After reviewing educational materials approved by the Board of Health, the parent or guardian, at the parent’s or guardian’s sole discretion, may elect for the child not to receive the HPV vaccine.
  • Meningococcal Conjugate (MenACWY): Students need a minimum of 2 doses of MenACWY vaccine. The first dose should be administered prior to entering 7th grade. The final dose should be administered prior to entering 12th grade.

The Virginia Annual Immunization Survey for the 2020-2021 school year shows there was a drop in student vaccination rates after the pandemic hit. Kindergarten entry compliance was at 80.4%, down from 84.8% at the beginning of the previous school year.  

In the 2020-2021 school year, state data shows 0.24% of the kindergarten population claimed a medical exemption, whereas 1.17% claimed a religious exemption. 

Data self-reported by public and private schools throughout the state is also publicly available on VDH’s website. The latest numbers from the 2021-2022 school years reveals wide disparities in “adequately immunized rates” for kindergarten students, ranging from a high of 100% to a low of 13.7% among public schools. 

A spokesperson for VDH said the survey doesn’t include conditional enrollment data and “the number of students without records.”

Epstein said returning to in-person settings with low vaccination rates could cause problems. 

“It’s really important that we keep these vaccine rates at the recommended levels because even the slightest drop leaves room for diseases to spread,” Epstein said. 

Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, the medical director of the mother-infant unit at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, said vaccine misinformation online is often behind hesitation. 

“We’ve seen in the wake of COVID vaccine hesitancy that some families that have been traditionally vaccine accepting have had more questions,” Kimbrough said. “I would say to families, bring those questions. Being hesitant is normal just to make sure you’re making the best choice for your family.” 

The COVID-19 vaccine is encouraged but not required for Virginia students returning to school. Children ages 6 months and older are now eligible. 

More information about Virginia’s vaccine requirements can be found here.