Covid-19 vaccine won’t be required for school kids in Washington state
The Washington state Board of Health voted unanimously Wednesday against adding the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations for kids in schools and childcare settings in the state.
The board was not debating the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine for children but deciding whether it should be required for school and childcare entry.
The state already requires multiple vaccines for kids to protect against things like Polio, Measles, and Hepatitis B. An exemption process is available for parents who don't want their children to be vaccinated.
In February, a technical advisory group voted narrowly against recommending the Covid-19 vaccine be added to the list of required shots.
In voting to follow that recommendation Wednesday, board members raised concerns about potential unintended consequences of a requirement, like children missing school if they’re unvaccinated and out of compliance.
“If we look at equitable access to vaccinations, the concern that this may drive many parents away from educational opportunities in Washington state, the fact that it may further push parents away from ensuring that their children are adequately vaccinated, I think we have to be very considerate of that,” said board member Dr. Bob Lutz.
Other board members expressed concern around implementation, and additional resources schools would need to adequately implement a mandate.
There was also a desire for more data around the vaccines in school-aged kids.
However, board members expressed no doubt about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine for children. They strongly encouraged vaccination and stressed it’s one of the best ways forward out of the pandemic.
While the shots won’t be required for kids to attend school in in the fall, the issue can be revisited at a later date.
“As the science and data change in the future, it may become necessary to assess whether this recommendation must also change," said Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, co-chair of the technical advisory group and science officer for Washington state. "So, it’s really important for us to continue close surveillance of Covid-19 and be open to this possibility.”
Things that could trigger a fresh look at the issue include new data becoming available or the emergence of a new variant that causes more severe illness in children, Kwan-Gett said.
Currently, children have the lowest vaccination rates of any age group in Washington state. According to data from the state Department of Health, just under 32 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds are fully vaccinated. The numbers go up to nearly 55 percent in 12 - to 17-year-olds and 62 percent in 16- and 17 year-olds.