Children aged 12 and older may have to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to school in California, the state’s top health official said Thursday.
While speaking at a news conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly was asked about a potential statewide mandate for children returning to class. He said that no decision has been made yet for students but said officials are considering the move.
“That conversation is part of what we’re considering as a state, but no definitive action is being made at the moment,” Ghaly told reporters. “It’s been a long conversation about vaccines in schools and their role in protecting students. We of course are always looking at the data, understanding where there are opportunities to ensure California’s vulnerable—those who can be protected—are protected through vaccinations.”
Los Angeles County earlier this month voted to approve a resolution requiring vaccinations for children attending public schools. This week, the Oakland Unified School District in the Bay Area voted to require vaccinations.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use in children aged 12 and older earlier this year. Pfizer and Moderna have recently submitted data in bids to try and recommend vaccines for kids under the age of 12.
Some studies have found that children have a very low risk of severe illness, death, or contracting long-term complications from COVID-19. Several weeks ago, researchers from the University of Liverpool, the University College of London, the University of York, and the University of Bristol released a paper that found that among 12 million children in the United Kingdom, only 25 died from COVID-19 directly.
A recent study, meanwhile, found that “long COVID,” or lingering symptoms from the virus, is less common among children than in adults. That paper, released in August, found that 4.4 percent of children who tested positive and showed symptoms had symptoms lasting four weeks or longer, while 1.8 percent had symptoms lasting longer than eight weeks.
At the same time, several U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-released studies have found that fully vaccinated people can transmit COVID-19. While in some countries that have a high vaccination rate, including Israel and Singapore, most new COVID-19 cases are among vaccinated individuals.
Earlier this month, Pfizer and partner BioNTech said that a lower dose of their COVID-19 vaccine is safe and triggered a robust immune system response in children as young as five years old, according to a news release. They said that the dose administered to young children was one-third that of the dose given to adults.
Health officials in the United States, Israel, and the vaccine manufacturers have said COVID-19 vaccines can prevent serious illness or hospitalization.
The CDC released a report that found the body mass index, used to determine whether someone is overweight or obese, among a sample of more than 400,000 American children had sharply increased during the pandemic.
According to the health agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, officials found that individuals between the ages of 2 to 19 saw their BMI “increase approximately doubled during the pandemic compared to a prepandemic period,” while continuing to say that “persons with prepandemic overweight or obesity and younger school-aged children experienced the largest increases.”