For the first time, all Minnesota schools are being required to report cases of chickenpox among their students and staff to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Depending on the severity of a chickenpox outbreak, the agency may also urge schools to exclude unvaccinated students. The health department will use the information to study disease trends and evaluate its immunization strategies.
Since chickenpox outbreaks can last several weeks to a couple of months, some schools have expressed concern about the exclusion recommendation, said the Health Department's Claudia Miller.
"It could be an extensive amount of time. And that's probably the biggest concern for both parents and for school administrators — is obviously the goal is to keep students in school," Miller said. "This would be a measure that would be taken only if it's deemed necessary to control the outbreak."
Last year, Minnesota had eight school-based chickenpox outbreaks. The Health Department recommended exclusion of unvaccinated students in four of those outbreaks. Miller said the schools implemented the recommendation to varying degrees.
Miller said the recommendation protects public health and is not intended to coerce parents to vaccinate their children.
"I might also note that when parents sign the pupil immunization record stating that they are opposed to immunization for conscientious reasons, not necessarily medical exemption, they are informed that this could result in their child being asked to be excluded from school," Miller said.