State law already clear on required vaccines

October 28, 2022 7:00 am

While federal officials are recommended adding COVID-19 to required school immunizations it isn’t likely to happen here in Indiana.

I love that insurance commercial where several older women are taping pictures to their “wall” — a nod to Facebook and the trope about technology and senior citizens.

“That’s not how any of this works,” one woman says.

That’s how I feel about the current debate on requiring the COVID-19 vaccination for school-aged children.

An advisory committee recommended that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include COVID-19 vaccines in its childhood immunization schedule for next year alongside measles, mumps, polio and more.

Note the word recommend. The federal government can’t mandate school vaccines.

It is up to each state whether they choose to do so. And frankly, in ruby red Indiana, it simply isn’t going to happen. But that doesn’t mean people won’t kick up a fuss and scare people into thinking it is imminent.

So, I thought I would explain the process.

First, it can be added to the school requirements in Indiana one of two ways. The first is if elected lawmakers pass a bill. With GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate, I am more likely to win the Powerball.

But state statute also says, “The state department of health may expand or otherwise modify the list of communicable diseases that require documentation of immunity as medical information becomes available that would warrant the expansion or modification in the interest of public health.”

This is authority that has been given to the department – led by the state health commissioner — by the Indiana General Assembly. In fact, the COVID-19 vaccine is already under “recommend” on the school immunization schedule, along with annual flu and HPV shots.

But the department is part of the executive branch, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has been clear that he doesn’t support COVID-19 vaccine government mandates – not for adults, not for kids.

He reiterated this again last week, telling reporters: “It’s obviously a simple recommendation. We haven’t been mandated. I’ve always sought to offer, not order, when it comes to that.”

But just in case you think the agency might go rogue – this is hypothetical – Indiana already has a flexible policy for parents to opt out.

One state law specifically covers medical exemptions, which require a note from a doctor. A second exemption for religious objections simply requires a note from the parent to a school with absolutely no proof or explanation.

In fact, during the 2021-22 academic year, 2.32% of kindergartners — equal to 1,453 students – were exempt from Indiana’s immunization requirements. Of those, 106 exemptions were for medical reasons, while 1,347 were religious objections.

Given that process, I was surprised to see that Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, plans to file a bill to allow Hoosier parents to exempt their children from this mandate (that isn’t even mandated).

That’s what a newsletter from the American Family Association of Indiana said, along with this quote: “Many wonder what good requiring these vaccines would do with a changing virus (read as questionable effectiveness of the vaccines now, and a weakening virus over time). Some wonder if the risks of the shot outweigh the benefits for a group with such a low risk of disease effects.”

That is a fair discussion to have. Everyone has strong feelings on vaccines and bodily autonomy, and my only request is that everyone step back and learn the facts before causing a panic.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.