CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Board of Education is supporting new vaccine requirements for schoolchildren imposed by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The board says it has filed a "friend of the court" brief backing the requirements in a Kanawha Circuit Court case that challenges their legality.
Incoming seventh-graders in West Virginia must show proof they have received one dose of vaccines against meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Incoming 12th-graders need proof they received booster doses after age 16.
The current school year started Aug. 17. Those who are not vaccinated before or shortly after the year begins cannot attend school.
The vaccinations are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Board members approved a resolution on Wednesday endorsing the CDC's recommendations.
"Immunizations are a vital part of public health and help make sure our students are free from preventable communicable diseases," state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple said in a news release. "We must take every step we can to keep our children as safe and healthy as possible, and immunizations are essential. A healthy child is one who is in school and can learn."
Six families are challenging the DHHR, claiming the agency does not have the authority to impose new vaccine requirements for school children. Patrick Lane, the families' lawyer and a state legislator, has said the state code requires children entering school for the first time to be immunized against diphtheria, polio, rubeola, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough. A Republican delegate representing Kanawha County, Lane argues the DHHR cannot require additional vaccines without the Legislature's approval.
The families had asked the state Supreme Court to block the new requirements, but the justices refused the request Aug. 15 in a 4-1 decision. The plaintiffs have since turned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman, who held a Wednesday hearing on their lawsuit's request for a temporary restraining order. Kaufman has asked for written arguments from the two sides over the next 30 days, Lane said Thursday.