State Board of Health moves closer to mandating COVID-19 vaccine for children

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

An advisory group to the Washington State Board of Health took another step Thursday toward mandating a COVID-19 vaccine before children would be allowed to go to school. 

At the same time, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent transmission of the virus. A presenter at last Thursday’s meeting also reminded that the ultimate goal of vaccination is to decrease general transmission in the community, it's not just to protect individual kids. And a compelling study presented to the advisory group to display vaccine efficacy clearly notes that the data do not show that “vaccination prevents asymptomatic infection.”

Since a COVID-19 injection does not protect children from contracting the virus or prevent community transmission, the science clearly leads to a “not yet” conclusion regarding a school mandate. All the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the vaccines and any possible long-term or irreversible impacts of either make this entire State Board of Health effort seem unnecessarily controversial and off-target. 

I’ve watched the work sessions and a constant theme is uncertainty. Answers from presenters Thursday included, “We don’t know those numbers yet,” “This is all interim data,” and, “Part of the problem is we don’t have nearly enough data.”  Medical experts are sure that COVID-19 information will “evolve,” that studies and trials are still ongoing and that officials might change the legal definition of “fully vaccinated” over time. 

See my blog for coverage of the first advisory group work session or watch a full recording of the all-day meeting here. A state recap of decisions made at the second session is available on the State Board of Health’s website, and you can watch the all-day meeting itself here. 

One more advisory group work session is set for Thursday, Feb. 24, and then the group will vote on whether to recommend a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for school and child-care settings. The State Board of Health can then accept or reject the advice. Vaccine exemptions to the requirement will also be considered.

I feel for this advisory group. The questions they are being asked are ones that cannot be answered well at this point in time. And the flood of information they’ve received is good, but it suffers from a sin of omission. “We don’t know that yet,” is often reality. No wonder several group members expressed anxiety that there is only one meeting left. They have been given mountains of information to consider, but there's been little time to process the information or discuss it.

Do COVID-19 vaccines show benefits? Yes. Does vaccination stop transmission? No. Are children safer with a vaccine? That depends. Many children won’t contract COVID-19, and even more won’t become seriously ill if they do. That could make the vaccine's possible and known impacts on children a similar risk or, in some cases, more of a risk. 

Since people with and without vaccines can contract and spread COVID-19, a vaccine requirement for school settings is not appropriate. The advisory group should be considering that rather than a list of criteria created before pandemic times that better applies to well-known diseases and vaccines.

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