SBOH votes against pursuing a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for school and day care children in Washington state at this time

About the Author
Elizabeth New (Hovde)
Policy Analyst and Director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights

Today, the Washington State Board of Health unanimously passed a motion to accept the recommendation from a technical advisory group (TAG) against a COVID-19 immunization requirement for school entry. Board members did reiterate support for the COVID-19 vaccines and hoped for voluntary vaccination of school children.  

The vote against a vaccine mandate for school children came after an hour-and-a-half of public comment and thousands of emails over the past months opposing such a requirement. (My public comment is included below.)  

I was glad to see the board make this decision, given what we know about the vaccines’ limitations and don’t know about their possible side effects, and given the power of natural immunity and the ability to contract and spread COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. 

Technical advisory group members were rightly concerned about the many unknowns of the vaccine, vaccine limitations, and the equity and resource issues involved in such a requirement. Board members echoed the equity and resource concerns, and they noted the social tradeoff of such a requirement. Some members also were open to reconsidering the issue at a later date — if the disease further evolves, if vaccines evolve and when more is known about how to negate social, equity and school-resource issues.

This vote might help the State Board of Health rebuild the trust it will need for public health concerns in the future. Once people knew about the board’s consideration of a COVID-19 immunization requirement, it followed a very thorough and transparent process. It was open to hearing from the public and even extended the public comment time set aside in meetings to accommodate a flood of input. 

WPC’s public comment at the April 13 State Board of Health meeting follows:

Thanks for the opportunity to speak today. I’m Elizabeth Hovde with the Washington Policy Center.

I followed the technical advisory group’s consideration of a COVID-19 vaccine requirement, and I benefited from all of the expert-led sessions provided in their meetings. I agree with the group’s final recommendation not to include a COVID-19 immunization requirement for school entry. 

We do not yet know enough about the vaccines or their side effects on children. Many kids now carry natural immunization against the disease, and vaccination has been widely available for those who want it. Hospitalizations are also considered manageable enough for the state to lift its mask mandate. Masks are a far less intrusive public health measure than vaccination requirements. 

Research shows that the COVID-19 vaccines available do not prevent contraction or transmission of the virus, making the benefit of such a requirement unable to outweigh the cons of such a requirement. 

Long-proven vaccines are well-demonstrated, essential parts of public health. Polio, whooping cough, mumps and rubella and other historically debilitating childhood illnesses have been greatly reduced by their widespread use. This latest vaccine is new, however, and, as noted, it does not stop COVID-19 contraction or spread. It does not fit our state’s standards.

State policy should prioritize patient-centered health care. And the decision to receive a COVID19 vaccine is one that should be made between doctors and their patients — without the pressure of a school-entry requirement. 

Thank you. Please let me know if you have any questions about the feedback we’ve been hearing regarding this consideration or about the COVID-19 vaccines’ limitations.

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