Why California Delayed Its School COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
CState health officials said this week that alifornia delayed the requirement for students in K-12 to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is despite a low COVID-19 vaccination rate.
Under the new timeline, California’s vaccine requirement will not take effect until at least July 1, 2023, and after full approval of the vaccine for children by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “to ensure sufficient time for successful implementation of new vaccine requirements,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement on Thursday.
In August, the FDA approved both the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine (for people aged 16 and over) and the Moderna vaccine (for those aged 18 and over). However, the FDA hasn’t extended approval to children younger than 16. Children age 5 and older are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under the FDA’s emergency use authorization; studies have shown the vaccine is safe and effective for that age group.
California was the first to declare that children will have to be vaccinated once the vaccine has been approved by the FDA. “The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella—there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke at the time.
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Washington, D.C., Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., announced the same mandates. In-person attendance at school will be required for the COVID-19 vaccine in 2022-23 for all students in an age bracket with FDA approval. COVID-19 vaccinations are required for public college students in New York and Illinois, however they do not apply to K-12.
A tracker from the National Academy for State Health Policy shows that 18 states have already banned COVID-19 vaccination mandates for their students.
California’s official statement on the reasons for the delay downplays any political aspect, focusing entirely on the logistics of the rule. However, this debate on vaccines mandates for schools shows intense division over safety concerns. According to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 70% of Democrats support requiring all students to receive full vaccination against COVID-19. However, only 17% of Republicans agree with this new survey. The poll also found that parents of K-12 school children were less likely to support mandated vaccines or masks at school than other respondents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ analysis of CDC data shows that the American child vaccination rate has stagnated. Only 28% of American 5-to-11-year olds have been fully vaccinated, and 58% of American 12-to-17 year-olds. Some public-health specialists believe school vaccinations could make a difference.
Denis Nash of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy is an epidemiologist who says mandates for school vaccinations have been historically an effective method to raise child vaccination rates.
“There’s a long precedent for requiring vaccination for school entry,” Nash says. “And it’s very effective at getting vaccine coverage up to the requisite levels in children for things like measles, mumps, and rubella.”
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Washington State’s health officials decided that a COVID-19 mandate for schools was not necessary. The decision was made after Washington State Board of Health had discussed the issues of mandating the COVID-19 vaccine in schools. Spokesman-Review reported.
The school mandate may not be sufficient to convince the most vaccine-hesitant parents. Nearly a quarter of parents said they would “definitely not” get their 12-to-17-year-old vaccinated against COVID-19, and 4% said they would only get their teen vaccinated if they were required to do so for school, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey published in February. Many who oppose COVID-19 vaccinations for children point to the fact that their age group has been less likely to get seriously ill or to die from COVID-19—though that does happen.
“We have to remember that it’s a public health problem, and it’s a public health crisis, and kids don’t exist in a vacuum,” Nash says. “They live in households with adults who are vulnerable for all kinds of different reasons. And they do contribute to spread, in addition to their own risk.”
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