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Wisconsin adds meningitis to vaccine list ahead of 2024-25 school year

Immunization rules apply to day cares, K-12 public and private schools

A child getting a vaccine in a doctor's office
A child getting a vaccine. Centers for Disease Control/Unpslash

Wisconsin is updating its vaccine rules for children ahead of the next school year.

That includes adding meningitis to the state’s list of immunizations for incoming seventh graders.

And, under the latest rules, students are urged to get the meningitis booster before 12th grade to protect against the disease, which can cause sometimes-fatal swelling around the brain and spinal cord.

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Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services previously updated its childhood immunization rules in February of 2023.

But shortly after, Republicans who control the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to temporarily suspend the rules, calling them burdensome. The vote followed more than nine hours of heated testimony during a committee meeting in which speakers repeated misinformation about vaccines.

The rules suspension expired last month with the end of Wisconsin’s legislative session, which means the updates from the health department are back in effect.

Under the reinstated rules, parents need a medical provider’s approval to cite prior infection as a reason for skipping the chickenpox vaccine. The latest rules also add criteria for identifying a substantial outbreak of chickenpox or meningitis in a school or day care.

The rule changes are in effect now for children entering child care centers, and will take effect at the start of the 2024-25 school year for students in public or private K-12 schools.

“For decades, both varicella (chicken pox) and meningitis vaccines have been recommended as safe and effective for children by medical experts, and this update to our state requirements improves how we can protect children as well as their entire schools and communities from these vaccine-preventable illnesses,” DHS Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson said in a statement this week. “When parents make the choice to keep their child up to date on vaccinations, it not only protects their own child, but also protects other children, their families, and the people who live and work in our schools and communities.”

As in the past, Wisconsin parents can waive vaccine requirements for schools and child care centers by citing medical or religious reasons, as well as reasons of “personal conviction.”

Medical experts from groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly” urge children to keep up with vaccinations according to the CDC’s recommended schedule.