All 50 states have legislation requiring specified vaccines for students. Although exemptions vary from state to state, all school immunization laws grant exemptions to children for medical reasons. There are 45 states, including Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., that grant religious exemptions for people who have religious objections to immunizations. And many states align their vaccine requirements with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
But the CDC only issues recommendations. Individual state legislatures mandate which vaccinations are required for school.
Most states mandate vaccinations for diseases easily transmitted in school settings, like polio and measles, while others may not require vaccinations for things like Hepatitis B or HPV, which are most often transmitted through intimate contact – even though such diseases are no less serious and the CDC recommends them for all children.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, educators, legislators and most important, parents, have wondered about and debated over whether the COVID-19 vaccine should be required, or at least recommended, before children can attend public school.
For now, no state requires children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for school entry.
“You hear the questions about whether vaccines should be mandatory or not,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “That’s not the question to be asking right now. The questions to be asking right now are, ‘Is it effective? Is it going to be free? Is it widely accessible?’”
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves and start asking about whether we’re going to require it,’ agrees Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association. “We don’t know that yet. So, let’s not say that yet.”
So, while few are publicly advocating for the forthcoming vaccines to be mandatory for school – at least not yet, anyway – most agree that a majority of states probably will require children to be immunized against COVID-19 at some point. Some states may adopt the requirement as early as the 2021-22 academic year but many more will probably wait until the following year.
As it stands, more than 1 million children in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. And while it’s rare for children to become severely ill – though they can and do – the bigger concern is that they are more likely to be silent spreaders who may not know they are infected because they are asymptomatic.
Tragically, neither measles or polio were ever silent.
Perhaps it would be wise to include children in vaccine trials so that enough data can be gathered. Then, we will be better armed to decide if it would best to send children to school vaccinated. For now, however, there are far more questions than answers.
And that’s a frightening prospect for any parent.