“Not only do I support it, but I’m encouraging states to come up with a plan to make sure it happens,” Cardona told POLITICO. “I would like governors who hold those decisions to make those decisions now that [vaccines] are FDA-approved.”
Cardona referenced the effectiveness of the measles vaccine in protecting against infections, pointing to this as a reason why COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory for schoolchildren. Measles vaccines are required for children in childcare or public schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“There’s a reason why we’re not talking about measles today,” Cardona added. “It was a required vaccination, and we put it behind us. So I do believe at this point we need to be moving forward.”
Currently, only Pfizer’s vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization for kids 12 years old and up. On Aug. 23, Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for 16 years old and older.
On Monday, Pfizer announced that phase 2/3 trial results showed that its vaccine was safe, well-tolerated among 5 to 11 years of age, and “demonstrating strong immune response.”
Some studies have found that children have a very low risk of severe illness, death, or contracting long-term complications from COVID-19. In July, 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 separate study published in August found that “long COVID” or lingering symptoms after a COVID-19 infection is less common among children than in adults. The researchers specifically analyzed data logged by parents or caregivers on behalf of children between the ages of five and 17.
The study 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.
Despite this, a number of schools across the United States have said they will require students aged 12 and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school.
In California, the state’s top health official said Thursday that a statewide vaccine requirement for kids 12 and older could be forthcoming.
However, the number of eligible students receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine dose continues to slow down.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revealed on Sept. 15 that 273,000 children had received their first coronavirus vaccine dose in the prior week, marking the lowest level seen since the vaccine was first made available for those aged 12 to 15. The AAP noted that the number of children receiving their first dose has been on the decline for five consecutive weeks.
Still, Cardona urged governors to work with schools to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, particularly in areas where the disease is being highly spread.
“Governors should work with their school officials and with their health officials to roll out requirements, especially in areas that are high-spread, and where students might be at risk for going back to remote learning, or hybrid learning, as a result of the spread of COVID-19,” Cardona said.
The education secretary also dismissed the potential for political backlash over the mandate, particularly in conservative-led states such as Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed back against COVID-related mandates such as requiring students to wear masks in schools.
Cardona said the vaccine mandate was about “safely reopening schools.”
“And what we know, based on not only on the COVID-19 vaccine, but the other vaccines that are already mandatory for school enrollment, is that they work. Our students have been disrupted enough, and sometimes you have to be crystal clear on what you believe,” he added.