The coming crisis around student Covid vaccines
Politicians and school districts want to avoid another polarized pandemic fight. But not requiring the shots could strengthen anti-vaxxers and threaten other mandated pediatric vaccines.
Today at The Intercept I published a piece looking at the escalating crisis around whether to require Covid-19 shots for eligible public school students, either now or when the vaccines receive full FDA approval.
It’s a delicate and high-stakes issue, and one the Biden administration has been loathe to weigh in on.
Policymakers feel understandably hesitant to impose any rules that could keep students — particularly vulnerable students — out of in-person learning for even longer than they’ve already endured. K-12 parents also are largely not in favor of student Covid-19 vaccine requirements (Kaiser Family Foundation recently found parents oppose mandates for eligible students by a two-to-one margin, despite largely favoring vaccine mandates for teachers) and as we’ve seen with school re-openings, school district policymakers are very hesitant to defy parent opinion, let alone wade into another polarized Covid school debate.
Why have parents been so resistant? One reason is certainly because they spent a year hearing that kids are not at risk of severe Covid and hospitalization, and that the vaccines are good at preventing severe Covid and hospitalization. Social scientists have also found that many parents — particularly, though not exclusively, white Republican and Independent mothers — now avoid reading news about Covid’s impact on children, satisfied with earlier information they consumed about low risks.
Many public health experts say preventing hospitalization is not the only benefit we should be thinking about when it comes to vaccinating kids, particularly since the long-term effects of Covid are not well-understood, and different variants could have different impacts. Moreover, there are risks to saying this kind of inoculation should be up to personal choice and autonomy, key arguments anti-vaxxers have been deploying for years to undermine other routine pediatric shots.
Even among the few student mandates that are going into effect, they aren’t set to be enforced in any real way until next fall, when hopefully the youth vaccines will have received full FDA approval, instead of the Emergency Use Authorization they have now. (Pfizer’s shot for 16 and 17 year olds has full approval.)
The FDA maintains that all vaccines under EUA are safe for kids and teens, but politically it’s been easier to mandate vaccines (and enforce the mandates) once they received full approval. That’s largely how it played out with adults/workers/teachers etc. So in D.C., which is one of the few East Coast jurisdictions to pass a Covid student vaccine mandate, its mandate is set take effect March 1, but not enforced until next school year, and even then only if the vaccines have received full FDA approval.
As regulators and policymakers stall and weigh the pros and cons, vaccine opponents and conservatives have been seeking to capitalize on the debate. And if these student vaccine mandates do take effect at the start of next school year, it’s likely many of them will come head-to-head with the November midterms.
You can read the full story here.
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