Can schools impose Covid-19 vaccines on children? What we know

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Children as young as 12 are now eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. Moderna Inc. said on Thursday it had asked U.S. health regulators to allow its Covid-19 vaccine to be used in adolescents ages 12 to 17, putting in place the potential availability of a second option of vaccine for adolescents.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 23% of young people between the ages of 12 and 15 have received at least one dose of Pfizer vaccine since US health officials cleared it for use in this group of people. age last month.

About 51% of people are in favor of mandatory vaccines for college students, 56% for high school students and 61% for students, according to a Gallup poll in May of more than 3,500 adults.

About 53% of parents of children aged 12 to 15 said they plan to have their child immunized. The same percentage of parents of children under 12 said they plan to have their children vaccinated once the green light is given.

State policies regarding vaccinations will play a key role in determining whether schools can require vaccinations against Covid-19 in a manner similar to the number of vaccines required for infectious diseases such as measles.

Can schools impose Covid-19 vaccines?

Schools and school districts generally do not have the authority to require vaccines for students.

But other authorities may: namely, state legislatures or health officials acting under legislative authority, said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, professor of public health law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

The only exception is New York City, where a 2018 court case over influenza vaccinations implies that city officials can likely require vaccines for students in addition to those authorized by the state.

“This is an area that is already just quite heavily regulated,” Ms. Reiss said.

Some states like California allow state health departments to add other vaccines to those required by law. But the health ministry never exercised that allowance, Ms Reiss said. Each of the 10 vaccines on California’s approved list were added by the state legislature, she said.

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Have state lawmakers shown interest in making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for kindergarten to grade 12 students?

Not really, and that’s not surprising, according to Ms. Reiss. For starters, the vaccine has only been approved for children 12 years of age and older. So arguing that a vaccine is needed could prove difficult if only half of the school population can receive it, Ms Reiss said. Lawmakers are unlikely to push for a mandate until the vaccine is approved for use by all school-aged children. Another reason is that the three Covid-19 vaccines are currently approved under an emergency use authorization, Ms Reiss said. While this status does not necessarily exclude a warrant, it weakens the legal status.

Oklahoma became the first state to pass legislation blocking K-12 vaccine requirements. The bill, signed by Governor of the Republic Kevin Stitt at the end of last month, also prohibits schools from implementing a mask mandate on unvaccinated students. Similar bills banning schools from requiring the vaccine are making their way through Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures.

Do school districts want the Covid-19 vaccine to be mandatory?

Many remain silent on the issue. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has authority over schools, said last week he was not keen on a vaccine mandate.

“I think when we start to mandate, we create conflicts that we don’t need,” said de Blasio. He added that it would be better to increase vaccinations by educating about their effectiveness.

Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner said vaccines should be made mandatory once they are proven to be safe and effective.

“I would expect that in the not too distant future – I don’t know if it’s weeks, months, or hopefully not years – the state would make it mandatory. Why would we treat Covid any differently from measles and mumps? It doesn’t make sense to me, ”Beutner said.

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Mr Beutner, head of the nation’s second-largest school district, said he has been discussing a potential mandate with state lawmakers for months and that when politics around the topic are put to the side, many agree. that the vaccine should be required. There are differing views on when to implement it, he said.

Mr. Beutner will step down at the end of the month.

Nearly 50 urban school districts, including New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Detroit, offer vaccines to students and families in school buildings, according to the Council of the Great City Schools.

What are the teachers saying?

The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers ‘union, said it did not have a national position, and the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers’ union, said it did not pressure for vaccination to be compulsory. Randi Weingarten, chairman of the group, said it was important to convince people of the vaccine’s effectiveness to overcome hesitation.

How effective are Covid-19 vaccines in children?

The results of a Pfizer-BioNTech study involving 2,260 adolescents revealed that the two-dose vaccine was 100% effective in protecting against symptomatic Covid-19 in 12 to 15 year olds.

So far, researchers have found no evidence that vaccines pose additional or different risks to children compared to adults. The most common side effects of the vaccine, according to the CDC, are flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, and chills.

Are school vaccination mandates working?

Yes, according to Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Take measles, the first vaccine to be compulsory in schools in some states. According to a 2003 article published in the Journal of Ethics of the American Medical Association, “Evidence showed that states with school vaccination laws had measles rates 40 to 51% lower than those without. such laws ”.

Such findings led to more state mandates and strict enforcement.

“Because of these mandates, we finally wiped out measles from this country” for a while, said Dr Offit.

Every state requires children to be immunized to go to school, with mumps, measles and rubella, as well as polio and diphtheria vaccinations being some of the most common. But there are exceptions. Six states – West Virginia, Mississippi, New York, Maine, California, and Connecticut – only allow medical exemptions.

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Forty-four states and the District of Columbia grant religious exemptions and 15 states allow philosophical exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What about colleges?

Hundreds of colleges and universities, both public and private, are requiring students to be vaccinated to participate in on-campus learning this fall.

Legal restrictions that bind K-12 schools do not always apply because most public universities have self-government powers, and private universities are generally not subject to state regulations, a Ms. Reiss said. But the autonomy powers of public universities are generally not strong enough to override state law. If states say that public universities cannot make the Covid-19 vaccine a condition of participation, as in the case of Oklahoma and Utah, then the powers of the universities could be limited, Ms. Reiss said.

And after?

Some public health experts and pediatricians warn that it might be safe to wait until more data becomes available before making the Covid-19 vaccine a requirement. Danny Benjamin, professor of pediatrics at Duke University, said he would like “as much information as possible” on the vaccine’s efficacy and death rates on a much larger scale than that provided by the initial trials. “We are really at the beginning of the life cycle of the obligation to do this,” said Dr. Benjamin.

Dr Benjamin, whose four children have all received the vaccine, including two who were part of the initial trials, said that given the hesitation about vaccines, it’s best not to rush into warrants. Instead, it would be better to encourage vaccinations through incentives and education, he said.

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