Georgia law requires students of every school, public or private, to have an immunization certificate on file. This document, signed by a physician or other medical professional, states that the child either has had the shots appropriate for his age or is immune because he's already had the disease.
Local health departments and pediatric clinics expect a rush of patients just before the school year begins and encourage parents not to wait until the last minute.
Students who, for whatever reason, are not able to get their shots before the school year begins can still enroll using a temporary immunization certificate.
If the student has never had any vaccinations, which is sometimes the case with those who come here from other countries, they can still attend as long as they document that they are in the process of getting their shots.
But not all school systems are so lenient. The Gainesville city school system won't allow students to attend until they've had all their shots.
After sixth grade, children who have spent their entire school career in Georgia won't require any more vaccinations until they enroll in college, when they'll usually need a shot to prevent bacterial meningitis.
All immunizations that are required by law are funded under the federal Vaccines for Children program, which pays for the shots if the patient's private insurance doesn't cover them. This program ensures that all students, regardless of income, are protected from disease when they attend school.
What if parents don't want their children vaccinated? The law does allow limited exemptions, but only for very specific circumstances.
A doctor can grant a temporary medical exemption for children who may have a compromised immune system; for example, those who are undergoing chemotherapy. This exemption is valid for only one year.
Parents who feel that vaccination contradicts their religious beliefs may file a notarized affidavit with the school. The religious exemption does not have to be renewed annually. However, if there is an outbreak of illness, unvaccinated children may be prohibited from attending school until the epidemic is under control.