Washington State Board Discards COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate For Schools

Washington State Board Discards COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate For Schools
School children wearing masks walk outside Condit Elementary School in Bellaire, Texas, in Dec. 16, 2020. (Francois Picard/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

The Washington State Board of Health has decided to not make COVID-19 vaccination a part of the state’s required immunizations for child care and school entry.

The decision, taken at the board’s April 13 virtual public meeting, was in accordance with the recommendation by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The board had created TAG last fall, tasking them with researching whether COVID-19 vaccines passed the scientific criteria necessary to add them to the list of mandatory vaccinations for K-12 students.

On Feb. 24, TAG members voted to not recommend COVID-19 vaccination, citing a lack of vaccine data on children and the potential negative impact arising from mandating vaccinations. Six members supported the vaccine mandate, seven members voted against it, and four were unsure. In the vote on April 13, the Board of Health made the unanimous decision to adopt TAG’s recommendation.

“The Department of Health very much supports the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah, a board member, said before the vote Wednesday, according to AP.

“I also want to affirm the overall recommendation of the (advisory group), but that does not take away from the fact that our department continues to remain committed to its work to encourage the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Both the board and advisory group members agreed that they need more data on the effects of vaccines on children aged between five and 11.

At present, the Pfizer vaccine has only been granted emergency use authorization for this age group and is not fully approved. Only Louisiana and California have added COVID-19 vaccines to their list of mandatory vaccinations for children.

However, the mandates will only be enforced after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants full approval for the Pfizer vaccine.

If there is new data on how vaccines affect children or a new virus variant that poses a heightened threat of severe disease to children, the board can revisit the issue, Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, the state’s science officer and co-chair of the advisory group noted.

At the April 13 meeting, the board received thousands of public comments that opposed imposing vaccine mandates in schools.

According to The Spokesman-Review, board President Keith Grellner admitted to never seeing such intense public reaction to the board’s potential actions during his 11 years on the board.

“We have to rebuild that trust and be able to show the residents we don’t have enough information, but we’re willing to put this on pause until we have more information to make a more data-driven decision,” said Elisabeth Crawford, who represents Washington cities on the Board of Health.