Each state requires children to receive a series of vaccines before enrolling in school. Typically, these inoculations are intended for protection against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, rubella, mumps, tetanus, meningitis and chickenpox.
Even though COVID-19 has claimed an estimated 830,000 lives in the United States, including fewer than 700 children, only two states – California and Louisiana – have added COVID-19 vaccines to the list of mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren. Both requirements would be enforced next school year, and only if the vaccines receive full clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has granted emergency clearance and has affirmed that the vaccines are safe and effective for children.
The virus is much less deadly for children than for adults, and federal regulators continue to review vaccines for most school-aged children, although final approval is likely to come. There are also bureaucratic complications: Children usually receive the other required vaccines before entering kindergarten and do not need additional doses, while at this point several doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are required to obtain immunity.
But the main reason states are reluctant to demand a vaccine for schoolchildren, public health experts say, is that they are reluctant to open another front in the wars that have raged over a wide array of rules and restrictions. COVID-19 since the pandemic started.
Distance education and school hiding policies have sparked fierce conflicts in many communities. And many Republican officials and conservative media figures have spoken out against governments and private companies for pressuring people to get the snaps.
“Polarization is a big part of why we don’t see vaccine requirements,” said Christine Pitts, a policy researcher at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which tracks COVID-19 policies in the 100 largest school districts in the country.
Pitts and other political experts say they see no sign that opposition to COVID-19 vaccine requirements is turning into widespread pressure on schools to shed long-standing demands for others vaccines. Nonetheless, the anti-vaccine movement grew stronger during the pandemic. For example, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense, doubled its donations in 2020, raising $ 6.8 million, while significantly expanding its reach in the past two years, according to a recent Associated Press investigation. .
“We are very careful not to be intentionally overbearing and to allow school systems to take the lead in their individual jurisdictions,” Dennis Schrader, Maryland health secretary, told the Baltimore Sun in September when questioned. on a COVID-19 vaccine warrant.
âWe are very respectful to them. We give them our advice and our best advice, but we do not want to be interventionists in terms of school policy.
Awaiting final approval
Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice released a note saying that public and private entities, including schools, could make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory under emergency clearance granted by the FDA.
California and Louisiana have said they will not implement their COVID-19 vaccine requirements until the next school year, and only if the FDA fully authorizes vaccines for children. The FDA has fully cleared the Pfizer vaccine for ages 16 and over and has granted emergency clearance for children between the ages of 5 and 16. The agency has not authorized, even in an emergency, either Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines for children under 18. .
Washington, DC, has also passed a COVID-19 school vaccination requirement that will take effect in March, but again, only if the vaccine is fully licensed. In New York City, Democrats in the Legislature also introduced measures that would institute a COVID-19 vaccine requirement after full FDA approval.
Some large districts, such as the Unified School District of Los Angeles, have instituted vaccination mandates that are not dependent on full FDA approval. The Los Angeles District planned to transfer unvaccinated students to online education starting this month. But last month, faced with 30,000 unvaccinated students, he extended the deadline to the fall.
The Oakland, Calif., School district has adopted a similar policy with a Jan. 1 deadline, which it recently extended until the end of this month.
Some other large districts, including New York City, the District of Columbia, and some or all of the districts of California, Hawaii, and Maryland, have imposed a vaccine requirement on students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities or activities. sports.
Ten states, Washington, DC and more than a dozen of the nation’s 100 largest school districts require all teachers and staff to be immunized, and hundreds of colleges and universities have mandatory COVID-19 immunization requirements for students and staff.
Many parents who have not had their children vaccinated say the lack of full FDA clearance is a factor, as it suggests the vaccines have not been fully vetted.
“There are people who are concerned that this was approved quickly and hasn’t been around for very long, so it’s different from the measles or mumps or tetanus vaccine, vaccines that have been around for a long time,” said Hemi Tewarson, Executive Director. of the National Academy for State Health Policy.
According to an analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the end of December, 53% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 had been fully immunized and 23% of those between the ages of 5 and 12 had received at least one dose. The Pfizer vaccine for the youngest received emergency authorization at the end of October; it was approved for older children in May.
Resistance in red states
While few states add COVID-19 vaccinations to their list of mandatory school vaccinations, some are taking action to block any requirements. According to the follow-up from the National Academy for State Health Policy, 17 states, most of them dominated by Republicans, have passed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine requirements for school attendance.
State of Oklahoma Senator Rob Standridge, a Republican, sponsored the measure that became law in his state last year.
Standridge said that while he does not see himself as anti-vaccine, he does view vaccination mandates as discriminatory. âThe concern for me is that they were going to target the unvaccinated,â said Standridge, who is a pharmacist.
He cited several reasons for opposing the requirement for a COVID-19 vaccine for students, including reports that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were followed by higher-than-expected incidents of temporary myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, in men between 16 and 29 years old. (The researchers noted that COVID-19 is much more likely to cause heart problems than vaccinations.)
He also noted that children generally have had a milder experience with COVID-19 than adults. Therefore, he said he did not think the government should force parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19.
âPhilosophically and as health professionals, these types of medical decisions should be left to parents for their children,â he said. Still, Standridge said he was not interested in rescinding other school vaccine requirements.
New Hampshire State Representative Timothy Lang Sr., also a Republican, sponsored a new law that prevents any public institution, including prisons, government offices, universities and public schools, from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine. However, the law contains a provision that would allow the State Commissioner for Health and Human Services to add COVID-19 injections to the list of mandatory K-12 vaccinations.
Lang also said the decision to inoculate should rest with individuals, not the government.
“It really comes down to the autonomy of the body,” Lang said, adding that people who choose not to be vaccinated should be even more careful about complying with masking and social distancing measures.
New Hampshire is one of 44 states that allow parents to not be vaccinated at school for religious or personal belief reasons. Lang noted that such requests are generally accepted, even in the case of infectious diseases such as measles and mumps. But he fears that’s not the case with a COVID-19 vaccine warrant.
In Louisiana, Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards imposed a requirement for a school COVID-19 vaccine in November, despite objections from a legislative panel. The policy will go into effect next fall, assuming the FDA has granted full clearance.
“It should be noted,” Edwards wrote to lawmakers, “while many diseases on the public health immunization schedule were once both endemic and fatal, they no longer pose serious risks to children of age. school in Louisiana. This is true because almost everyone has been vaccinated against these diseases, many of which are a requirement for attending elementary school. “
The history of one such disease, polio, suggests that it may be several years before schools across the country demand a COVID-19 vaccine.
By the end of December, COVID-19 had killed 678 children, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – just 0.08% of total deaths in the United States. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, less than 1.7% of COVID-19 child cases resulted in hospitalization and less than 0.03% resulted in death.
In contrast, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, before the introduction of the polio vaccine, most of the approximately 35,000 Americans disabled each year by the dreaded disease were children. In the summer, when the virus seemed to peak, many terrified parents were afraid to let their children go to the swimming pool, the beach, the movies or other community gathering places.
The polio vaccine has been widely hailed as a scientific miracle, and many parents rushed to get their children vaccinated as soon as it became available. And yet, by 1963, only 20 states plus the District of Columbia had required children to receive the polio vaccine, or any vaccine, in order to attend school.
Michael Ollove, Stateline.org