The April 13 vote at the state Board of Health was unanimous: COVID-19 vaccines will not be on the list of required vaccines in Washington schools.
The board has been researching the highly contentious issue for many months and created a technical advisory group to determine if COVID vaccines meet the criteria for being added to the list of K-12 immunizations required by the state. Among the issues researched by the group were vaccine effectiveness, affordability and efficacy, COVID disease morbidity, and vaccine administration and tracking
The group recommended against adding COVID-19 vaccine to the list in February saying there was not enough vaccine data for school-aged kids to make a recommendation. It also noted that making COVID vaccination a condition of school entry could have unpredictable social impacts.
Even as the vote went down, Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, the state’s science officer and co-chair of the advisory group, warned the board that as new data comes to light “it may become necessary to assess whether this recommendation must change.” For example, if a new variant surfaces that causes more severe disease in children, the Board of Health may have to reconsider its decision.
“It’s really important for us to continue close surveillance of COVID-19 and be open to this possibility,” Kwan-Gett said.
Board members noted that vaccine effectiveness was only part of their deliberation. The contentious nature of the issue, the dramatic rise in absenteeism during COVID and the higher number of kids being pulled out of public schools were all issues in the debate.
The board and group members made an appeal for more data on the impacts of COVID vaccines on children ages 5 to 11. It also notes that some vaccines, while approved for emergency use, have not been fully approved by the FDA for older children. Vaccination rates among children have started to plateau. According to a report in the Seattle Times April 13, vaccination rates among younger kids are lagging.
“As of last week, about 32% of kids between 5 and 11 were fully vaccinated, while about 55% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 62% of 16- and 17-year-olds had received both shots, according to DOH data,” the Seattle Times reported.