Illustration of a vaccination record in orange hue.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • The CDC is adding COVID-19 vaccines to its recommended immunization schedule.
  • This decision does not make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for school entry.
  • It does ensure people can continue to get COVID-19 vaccines for free once federal funds run dry.

Last week, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted unanimously to add COVID-19 vaccines to recommended immunization schedules for both children and adults starting in 2023. This decision has sparked concern and misinformation around whether COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory for students to attend school.

Is the CDC forcing schools to require COVID-19 vaccines? 

No. ACIP’s decision to add COVID-19 vaccines to recommended immunization lists does not impact vaccine requirements for school entry. The CDC does not have the power to set school vaccine requirements—that power lies at the state and local levels. Currently, only California and Washington, D.C., have announced a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students, while 21 states have banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students.

Why are COVID-19 vaccines being added to the recommended immunization schedule?

The CDC’s recommended immunization schedules for children and adults help health care providers determine when patients should receive certain vaccines. The addition of COVID-19 vaccines to these lists also expands access to the shots once the federal government stops paying for them. 

Kids without health insurance will still be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines for free after federal funding ends through the Vaccines for Children Program, a federally funded program that provides ACIP-recommended vaccines at no cost to children whose parents or guardians may not be able to afford them.

People with Medicare prescription drug coverage will also be able to continue receiving COVID-19 vaccines for free, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. Signed in August, the legislation makes improvements to Medicare that include saving money on vaccines. ACIP-recommended adult vaccines will be available with no deductible and no cost-sharing to people with Medicare prescription drug coverage starting in 2023. Free vaccines include the shingles and tetanus vaccines as well as COVID-19 shots once federal funds run dry.

Why does the CDC recommend vaccines for diseases that no longer circulate in the U.S.?

Just because a disease is no longer circulating in the U.S. does not mean that it cannot return. As we’ve seen with polio’s recent reemergence in New York, infectious diseases that have been absent from a community for years or even decades can pop up again. Staying up to date with the CDC’s recommended immunizations for children and adults ensures that we remain protected against many serious diseases, including those that have been eliminated. 
You can find your state’s vaccine mandates for school enrollment here. Not all states require the full list of recommended immunizations. Currently, all 50 states require vaccines for tetanus, polio, measles, and chickenpox for kindergarten enrollment. State mandates around other recommended vaccines vary.