How Do I Know If Other Children in My Child's Class Have Been Immunized?

Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, including whopping cough, measles and mumps infections. He adds that, unfortunately, most schools don’t publish their rates of immunization, leaving concerned parents without answers to help protect their children.


How do I know if other children in my child's class have been immunized?

Paul Offit, MD:  Hi, my name's Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Recently there’ve been more outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2012, we had an outbreak of whopping cough that involved more than 40,000 children in the United States, and caused a number of them to be hospitalized, and some even to be killed by the bacteria.

This year, 2015, we have a measles outbreak that looks like it’s on pace to be twice that of the outbreak last year. And last year’s outbreak of measles was the biggest we’ve had in more than 20 years. Mumps now has made somewhat of a comeback in certain communities. So I think parents are starting to worry a little more that children who are not necessarily their children are catching and transmitting these potentially fatal infections.

And for that reason, they’ve become interested in knowing whether when they send their child to a daycare center, or when they send their child to an elementary school, whether other children in that school are protected, are vaccinated. It’s a reasonable question, especially for parents whose children can’t be vaccinated. I mean, some children are receiving chemotherapy for their cancers, or maintenance chemotherapy for their cancers. Some children are receiving, say steroids for their asthma, which makes it difficult for them to be effectively immunized.

So they want to make sure that when they bring their child into a classroom, that at least their children are being protected in the herd. That they’re able to know that those people around them are vaccinated and therefore making it much more difficult for the viruses or bacteria to get through all those other children, and then to their child.

The answer to the question, “How can you know what the percentage of children in your class is immunized?” is generally you don’t know. I mean, it’s really very few elementary schools or daycare centers that publish their rates of immunization. But I think that would be a great idea, right? I think it would be a great way of saying, “Look we care about protecting children in this environment. And so we publish these rates.” Certainly parents have the right to ask the question about how children are picked up at school, what are the safety procedures on playgrounds. So this is another safety procedure. And I think a safety procedure that every parent has absolutely the right to know whether or not a school is enforcing.

Thank you for your attention.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Apr 23, 2015