- No vaccines are required by law for admission to post-secondary schools (colleges and universities).
- Hepatitis B and meningococcal vaccines are recommended for post secondary school admission but are NOT required by law. Students may decline all vaccines
- Colleges and universities are required by law to provide information about meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B, however the vaccines for these diseases are not required by law for admission.
- Students residing in on-campus housing may decline the recommended meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B vaccines.
- The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended that college freshman living in residence halls receive the meningococcal meningitis vaccine, however the student may decline the vaccine.
- Additional (booster) MMR, measles and rubella vaccines are not required by law for admission to post-secondary colleges and university schools.
- The human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) is not required by law for admission to colleges or universities.
- Postsecondary schools (colleges/universities) are required by law to comply with federal and state laws, rules and regulations, including religious freedom laws.
- Postsecondary institutions are required by law to accommodate the religious beliefs of students in regards to admissions.
Information about vaccine requirements for admissions at post-secondary schools is often confusing and misleading. Reference to vaccine laws and exemption provisions are often missing from university websites and manuals. While each university is required to include religious exemption information in the institution’s annual handbook, manual, or other similar documents for faculty and students, a standardized statement and format for providing this information does not seem to exist.
If you wish to decline vaccinations or are concerned that you may be denied admission if you have not received any vaccines, know two things: (a) there are no laws mandating vaccines for post secondary school admission and (b) the laws/rules governing these institutions stipulate that admissions policy must accommodate for religious beliefs. A review of the laws, codes and rules pertaining to vaccination requirements and exemption provisions is provided below.
The State University System of Florida is governed by the Florida Board of Governors (FLBOG). The university system was previously governed by the Florida Board of Regents until disbanded by the legislature in 2001. At that time the K-12 education system became the K-20 system. The new statewide governing body for the university system, the Florida Board of Governors, was established in 2002.
Under the present governance system, the governing authority for the state university system is divided between the Florida Board of Education (which has some authority over all levels of public education in the state) and appointed University Boards of Trustees, which operate independently for each separate institution. Each university has the responsibility for developing and administering its own admissions policies, under general guidelines provided in the Board of Governors regulations (see below).
The Board of Governors in January 2003 adopted in part rules that had been previously promulgated by the Board of Regents for the operation of the State University System and which were indexed under Chapter 6C of the Florida Administrative Code. Since that time, the Board adopted a Regulation Development Procedure and all rules previously adopted by the Board were readopted as regulations. (http://www.flbog.edu/about/regulations/)
The various laws and regulations that govern post secondary education are derived from Florida Statutes, the State Board of Education administrative code and the Florida Board of Governors governing code. All BOE and BOG administrative rulings and code must be predicated on Florida Statutes. While post secondary schools have authority granted by the Board of Governors to develop their own admissions criteria (within BOG guidelines), all are required by Florida law to adhere to and comply with state and federal laws, including provision for religious exemption to vaccine requirements.
The following statements regarding post secondary school vaccine requirements and exemptions are facts about the laws governing admissions. The admissions policies, rules and procedures set forth by some schools are in direct conflict with the law or have no basis in law.
Religious Exemption & Declining Vaccines
A common misconception about religious exemption is the idea that parents/students must “apply for” religious exemption (as if exemption can be denied if the applicant does not meet certain criteria) when, in fact, the law already provides for religious exemption. Because it is already provided for by law, students/parents claim their exemption rather than “apply” for an exemption. For K-12 schools, claiming your exemption involves obtaining a standardized religious exemption certificate issued by the Department of Health which is then submitted to your child’s school when registering for admission.
How students decline vaccines or claim religious exemption at post secondary schools should be as simple as signing a waiver stating that the student declines recommended and/or required vaccines. This is the expressly stated standardized procedure at all post secondary schools for declining the Hepatitis B and Meningococcal vaccines. It is not necessary to provide a reason for declining these vaccines nor is it necessary to claim religious exemption to decline these vaccines. Since there are no laws mandating vaccines as a prerequisite for admission to post-secondary schools, this same procedure should be the standard for declining all recommended or required vaccines regardless of the reason.
There are three common misconceptions about college admissions vaccine requirements. One is the idea that college students must have certain vaccines for admissions. Another is the idea that students may not decline required vaccines under any circumstance (i.e., there are no exemptions). A third misconception is that where religious exemption is expressly provided for, students must submit administrative proof in the form of a letter describing specific tenets on church letterhead signed by clergy.
None of these policies or rules has any legal basis. Certain employers/institutions are required by law to offer vaccines and/or to provide information about vaccines; however, there is no law which requires adults to vaccinate as a condition of employment or admission to post secondary schools. The Florida Supreme Court in Department of Health vs. Curry (1998) affirmed that the statute pertaining to vaccine requirements for K-12 admissions does not authorize agents of the state to question the sincerity of a religious objection to vaccination. The Court emphasized that separation of church and state prohibits the state from making such requests.
The K-20 Education Code explicitly states in various statutes that post-secondary institutions (colleges and universities) have a responsibility for compliance with state and federal laws, rules, regulations and requirements and they must adopt a policy that accommodates religious beliefs in regard to admissions. Post secondary schools are required to comply with Florida Statute 1006.53 which includes providing a grievance procedure by which a student who believes that he or she has been unreasonably denied an educational benefit due to his or her religious belief or practices may seek redress.
Since exemption provisions are missing from many college/university admissions application forms and manuals or are not clearly understood by admissions advisors, it is up to the student to know the laws and rules about vaccines and religious accommodations (see below). Where policy is incongruous with the law, the school should be able to explain where their authority for this policy is derived and provide specific references to law.
MMR admissions requirements
Until recently, college admissions forms inferred that an MMR shot was required regardless of vaccine history. The authority for this policy was said to be derived from Chapter 6C of the Florida Administrative Code (now defunct) even though this requirement was never and is not now supported by Florida law. Under this policy exemptions were denied or granted only if the student submitted administrative proof in the form of a letter describing specific tenets on church letterhead signed by clergy. This was/is unlawful.
The admissions policy regards MMR immunization now requires only evidence that the student received the recommended dosages of MMR according to the recommended childhood vaccination schedule and only requires the vaccines if the student has never received them. Some schools have included on their health forms a provision that the MMR vaccines are not required if the student claims religious exemption while other schools still omit any reference to exemption, continue to deny exemption in any case and/or still unlawfully require a letter from church clergy in order to qualify for religious exemption status.
There is no statutory requirement for MMR or measles and rubella vaccines as a requisite for admission to Florida colleges and universities. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are required vaccines for admission to K-12 schools (1003.22 F.S.) however the statute stipulates that the rules for enforcing compliance must include procedures for exempting a student from immunization requirements. Florida statute 1003.22 section (5)(a) provides for religious exemption from this vaccine requirement.
Students entering post-secondary schools who have not received the MMR vaccines and do not wish to receive them and/or who had religious exemption from K-12 school requirements are not required by law to have these vaccines.
Note: The Bureau of Immunization is the regulatory agency for K-12 compliance with school admission vaccine requirements as set forth in 1003.22 F.S. Post-secondary schools (colleges and universities) are not regulated by nor are their policies reviewed by the Bureau of Immunization. The governing agency for the state university system, the Board of Governors, authorizes each institution to develop admissions policy independently (although in accordance with BOG guidelines – see below). Except for general guidelines, the Board has no oversight or responsibility for the policies established at these schools. The Board presumes that each school is in compliance with state and federal laws and takes no interest in whether a school’s admissions policy requiring certain vaccines is legal or unlawful.
Health Science Programs Admissions Requirements
The Board of Governors authorizes universities to develop their own admissions policies, including specific requirements for professional programs such as health science programs and medical schools. However the BOG stipulates that admissions policies must be developed under general guidelines provided by Board of Governors Regulations.
The Board of Governors Regulation 1.001 (8)(e) expressly stipulates that universities must comply with all applicable laws, rules regulations and requirements. These laws and rules include accommodations for religious beliefs.
Health science programs and medical schools require documentary proof of receiving various required vaccines as a condition for acceptance into the programs. Yet there are no laws stipulating vaccines as requisite for admission into post secondary schools or for any health science and medical programs.
When asked where the authority comes from to require vaccines for admission to these programs, school administrators and Board of Governors officials say that the affiliated hospitals and labs where students intern or attend classes require them. Yet there are no statutory requirements for hospital employees to have vaccines. Certain vaccines (hepatitis B, pneumococcal, MMR, varicella) are recommended for hospital employees, but none are required by law.
According to the Board of Governors, if a medical school or health sciences program is following the affiliated hospital’s requirements, such specific requirements may guide admissions and other academic requirements for the program in question. Thus, the Board concurs that a university program/department/school may create admissions policy to include as requirements the affiliated hospital’s vaccine requirements for students. Yet there are no statutory requirements for hospital employees or student interns to have vaccines.
According to the Board of Governors, since regulations governing the hospital are not in the purview of the Board of Governors, the BOG does not have authority over what hospitals can require of students interning at their facilities. Thus, the Board accepts the premise that a university must accept an affiliated hospital’s directive to require certain vaccines and since the directive comes from the hospital, exemptions are under the purview of the hospital, not the school. Yet there are no statutory requirements for hospital employees or student interns to have vaccines.
Regards students attending classes/training at a hospital facility, the Board of Governors does not know if it is legal for the hospital to require students to have vaccines. Vaccines are recommended for hospital employees, however by law there is a system of waiver for declining recommended vaccines.
The Board of Governors agrees that the university system has to have a system of waiver to opt out of vaccine requirements, yet the Board accepts the premise that exemptions from hospital vaccine requirements are under the purview of the affiliated hospital, not the university. Even if the university provides for waivers, the Board of Governors does not know if the affiliated hospital would/should accept a waiver extended to the student by the university.
The Board of Governors says a waiver process to be implemented by the universities is included in their guidelines, however the regulation providing for a waiver process is ambiguous and misleading.
Board of Governors Regulation 6.001(9) states: “prior to registration, each student accepted for admission must submit on a signed medical history form, including documentation of appropriate immunization as required by each university. Some students may be required to undergo diagnostic procedures prior to registration. Exceptions may be granted pursuant to university policies. Each university may reserve the right to refuse registration to any student whose health record or report of medical examination indicates the existence of a condition which may be harmful to members of the university community.”
The regulation does not stipulate that the university must have a waiver process. It says that an exception “may” be granted “pursuant” or in accordance with university policy. It implies that exceptions are at the discretion of and under the purview of the university, and it clearly states that each university may refuse to admit any student whose “health record” does not meet their criteria.
According to the Board of Governors, the requirements for vaccines and other required medical procedures as stipulated for in this regulation are set by the affiliated hospital, not the university. The Board does not question the legality of universities and affiliated hospitals requiring vaccines and other medical procedures as a condition for acceptance into a school or program.
The Board of Governors, the governing body for the Florida state university system, states that it has no authority over what hospitals require of student interns and abdicates any responsibility in this matter. The BOG says a student wanting to decline the required vaccines should go to the hospital administration, not the university. The BOG advises that any questions concerning the university-hospital relationship or the legality of vaccine requirements by the hospital for students should be directed to the General Counsel of the university and/or to the attorney for the hospital.
The university-hospital relationship in this matter is unclear, as is the supervisory role of the Board of Governors.
Since there is no statutory requirement for vaccines to attend university or to work at a medical facility, a hospital’s vaccine requirements for student interns and the university’s vaccine requirements for students in hospital-affiliated programs are really RECOMMENDATIONS, not legal requirements. If a hospital employee can decline a recommended vaccine, a student intern at the hospital should be able to decline a recommended vaccine, as required by law.
Yet to be answered is another critical question in this matter. Since specific vaccines are required by both the affiliated hospital and the university (as per the hospital’s directive) and no system of waiver (which is required by law) or informed consent seems to be in place for these vaccine requirements, in the event of vaccine injury or death, is the university or hospital responsible? If neither of these institutions is responsible for injury or liable for damages from vaccines that they specifically require, then how can there be such requirements without informed consent and without waiver provisions?
Note: Private clinics and hospitals may create exclusionary and/or discriminatory policies; however any facility/institution that accepts federal funding in any way (Medicare/Medicaid, Pell Grants, etc.) is obligated to comply with state and federal laws, rules, regulations and requirements, including provisions for accommodating religious beliefs.
Florida Statutes – Title XLVIII K-20 Education Code
1001.64 Community college boards of trustees; powers & duties
(8)(g) Each board of trustees pursuant to s. 1006.53 shall adopt a policy in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education that reasonably accommodates the religious observance, practice, and belief of individual students in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work assignments
1001.65 Community college presidents; powers and duties.
(16) Ensure compliance with federal and state laws, rules, regulations, and other requirements that are applicable to the community college.
1001.74 Powers and duties of university boards of trustees
(7) Each board of trustees has responsibility for compliance with state and federal laws, rules, regulations, and requirements.
1006.53 Religious observances
Each public postsecondary educational institution shall adopt a policy which reasonably accommodates the religious observance, practice and belief of individual students in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work assignments. . Each policy shall include a grievance procedure by which a student who believes that he or she has been unreasonably denied an educational benefit due to his or her religious belief or practices may seek redress. Such policy shall be made known to faculty and students annually in inclusion in the institution’s handbook, manual, or other similar document regularly provided to faculty and students.
Note: FS 1006.53 requires that post secondary schools adopt admissions policies to accommodate religious beliefs.
1006.69 Vaccination against meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B
(1) A postsecondary educational institution shall provide detailed information concerning the risks associated with meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B and the availability, effectiveness, and known contraindications of any required or recommended vaccine to every student, or to the student’s parent if the student is a minor, who has been accepted for admission.
(2) An individual enrolled in a postsecondary educational institution who will be residing in on-campus housing shall provide documentation of vaccinations against meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B unless the individual, if the individual is 18 years of age or older, or the individual’s parent, if the individual is a minor, declines the vaccinations by signing a separate waiver for each of these vaccines, provided by the institution, acknowledging receipt and review of the information provided.
Note: FS 1006.69 requires only that post secondary schools provide detailed information to every student (or student’s parents if the student is a minor) concerning the risks associated with meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B diseases as well as the availability, effectiveness, and known contra-indications of any required or recommended vaccine.
Florida BOE Administrative Code 6A – State Board of Education
Religious Observance by Students.
Each board of trustees shall adopt a policy to accommodate the religious observance of students pursuant to Section 1006.53, Florida Statutes.
(1) The policy shall provide for accommodation by providing for reasonable alternative means for students to carry out their responsibilities as students when their religious observance interferes with:
(a) Admission and registration.
(2) The policy shall provide for:
(d) Students to seek redress when they believe they have been unreasonably denied educational benefits due to their religious beliefs or practices.
(3) The policy shall be made known to faculty and students by publication annually in the institution’s handbook, manual, or other similar document regularly provided to faculty and students.
State University System BOG Rules – Florida Board of Governors
1.001 University Boards of Trustees Powers and Duties
(1) Pursuant to Article IX, section 7(c), Florida Constitution, the Board of Governors shall establish the powers and duties of the board of trustees as set forth herein and as may be established in Board of Governors’ regulations. This regulation supersedes the delegation of authority to the boards of trustees contained in the Board of Governors’ Resolution dated January 7, 2003.
(4) Academic Programs and Student Affairs.
(a) Each board of trustees shall adopt university regulations or policies, as appropriate, in areas including, but not limited to:
3. admission and enrollment of students;
(8) Miscellaneous Powers and Duties. (e) Each board of trustees is responsible for compliance with all applicable laws, rules, regulations, and requirements.
6.001 General Admissions
(9) Prior to registration, each student accepted for admission must submit on a signed medical history form, including documentation of appropriate immunization as required by each university. Some students may be required to undergo diagnostic procedures prior to registration. Exceptions may be granted pursuant to university policies. Each university may reserve the right to refuse registration to any student whose health record or report of medical examination indicates the existence of a condition which may be harmful to members of the university community.
6.007 Vaccinations against Meningococcal Meningitis and Hepatitis B
(1) To protect the health and safety of students within the State University System, the following minimum requirements for vaccinations against meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B are established.
(2) The term “parent” means the natural or adoptive parent or legal guardian. The term “minor” means a person under the age of 18. For the purposes of this regulation, legally emancipated minor students shall receive the same treatment as students over the age of 18.
(3) Universities shall provide all students and the parents of minor students with detailed information about meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B and the potential fatal nature of meningococcal meningitis, as well as the risks associated with hepatitis B. This information shall include the availability, effectiveness, and known contraindications of any required or recommended vaccines.
(4) Effective July 1, 2008, all new matriculating students must provide documentation of vaccinations against meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B or provide a signed waiver for each declined vaccination. All new matriculating students 18 or older who choose not to be vaccinated against either meningococcal meningitis or hepatitis B must sign a statement that they have been made aware of the potential fatal nature of the diseases and choose not to be vaccinated. All new matriculating minor students must provide signed parental consent to opt out of vaccination from either of these diseases.
(5) Universities shall maintain a record of student vaccinations for meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B.
6.0115 Religious Observances.
(1) Each university board of trustees shall adopt a regulation which reasonably accommodates the religious observance, practice, and belief of individual students in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work assignments.
(2) Each regulation shall include a grievance procedure by which a student who believes that he or she has been unreasonably denied an educational benefit due to his or her religious belief or practices may seek redress.
(3) Such regulation shall be made known to faculty and students annually and included in the institution’s handbook, manual, or other similar document regularly provided to faculty and students.
Specific Exemption Information from Universities:
University of Florida exemption information:
A student has the option of declining vaccines if this is their religious belief. To do this the student must meet with a Registered Nurse from the University’s Student Health Care Center’s Immunization Clinic, sign a formal document acknowledging that they have been counseled about the risks of vaccine preventable disease, the availability, effectiveness and known contra-indications of any required or recommended vaccine. If a vaccine preventable disease occurs on the campus, students who have not been vaccinated may be excluded from attending classes or other campus activities. If you are unable to complete this form during preview/orientation, please call 352-392-1161 ext 1-4259 to consult with the nurse. http://shcc.ufl.edu/medical/immune.shtml
University of West Florida exemption information:
State University System of Florida exemption information:
Exceptions to this policy may be granted in the event of valid medical contraindications or for documented religious reasons. In the event of a measles emergency, these exempted students will be excluded from campus activities, until such time as is specified by the County Public Health Unit Director/Administrator.
University of North Florida exemption information:
Medical exemptions must be submitted by attending physician and include a reason for the exemption.
Religious exemptions submit a letter.
In the event of a measles/rubella emergency, exempted students will be excluded from all campus activities until such time as specified by the County Health Unit.
Florida Atlantic University exemption information:
Religious or medial exemptions – contact FAU Immunization Office for information.
In the event of a measles/rubella emergency, exempted students will be excluded from all classes and other campus activities until such time as specified by the County Health Unit director/administrator or the Director of FAU Student Health Services.
Florida International University exemption information:
You will be exempt from the pre-registration immunization requirements for measles, mumps, and rubella, only if you meet any one of the following three criteria:
1. You were born before January 1, 1957
2. Medical Exemption: to claim a medical exemption, you must produce a letter from a healthcare provider, signed on his/her stationery, stating the medical reasons(s) why you are not able to receive the measles and/or rubella vaccine(s) and for how long – a permanent or temporary medical condition warranting exemption.
3. Religious Exemption: for details on how to claim a religious exemption, please visit the website at www.fiu.edu/~health.
To prevent delays in your ability to register for your classes, documents requesting medical or religious exemption must be received by the University Health Services at least four weeks prior to registration.