Worried in part about the “outrage component,” a Washington advisory group did not recommend required COVID vaccines for children. So what’s the next step?
After lengthy meetings and a slew of data presentations, a state advisory group voted late last month not to recommend adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations required for entry into the school starting this fall.
The technical advisory group has been tasked with evaluating the COVID-19 vaccine against nine criteria used by the National Board of Health, which will ultimately make the final decision.
The group was divided on its final recommendation vote: Six members voted “yes” to recommend requiring the COVID-19 vaccine in schools; seven members voted “no”; and four voted they were “unsure”.
The group’s recommendation now goes to the Health Council, which will most likely consider it at its April 13 meeting.
The State Board of Health has the final say on whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be required in schools and daycares, but the board has never gone against a technical advisory group’s recommendation. .
The shared decision
The group of stakeholders, from pediatricians to community organizers, educators and public health experts, overwhelmingly supported the safety and science of the COVID-19 vaccine for children and backed about half of the criteria needed to add a vaccine to the vaccine. list of required vaccinations.
The advisory group backed criteria that the vaccine is recommended by federal agencies, effective, safe and capable of preventing disease and transmission.
The other criteria, however, raised real challenges.
The advisory group was divided on cost-effectiveness, burdens on community members, school districts and the health care system, and its acceptability to the medical community and the public.
A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of parents think schools shouldn’t require the COVID-19 vaccine for children and teens. Members of the advisory group were concerned that since all vaccines required in Washington state schools come with exemptions, a mandate might not compel enough additional families to have their children vaccinated, opting instead for exemptions, thus minimizing potential benefits.
If the COVID vaccine was required, members of the advisory group wondered to what extent families in Washington could access the vaccine or, if they wanted an exemption, a provider to grant one.
An informal statewide survey found that some families in Washington would face structural barriers to complying with a COVID-19 vaccine requirement, whether it’s transportation, coordinating leave work or finding a supplier to authorize an exemption.
If families do not have an exemption or verification of the vaccines needed to attend school or child care, these children and adolescents are not allowed to be in school, a significant potential consequence that the group recognized would have a disproportionate impact on families with limited access to the health care system to begin with.
Currently, 35% of children ages 5-11 have started getting vaccinated in Washington State. For 12- to 15-year-olds, that figure is 59 percent, and so far 67 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the state.
Ultimately, the advisory group wondered to what extent a vaccine requirement would lead to an increase in these vaccine percentages and at what cost, especially with some public outrage over mask mandates in schools, which led to some districts dropping their masks prematurely last month (only to reverse their resolutions after their funding was threatened).
The politicization of the pandemic impacted the group’s final recommendation.
“It’s not as straightforward as some additions in the past and without the outrage component it might have been an easier answer than without, but this combination is concerning,” said Dr Tom Pendergrass, who helped lead the advisory group and also sits on the health board, the group said after the group’s final vote. “The overall vote was nearly even, which is no surprise given all the talk we’ve had.”
What awaits us
The Board of Health will receive public comment on adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the state immunization schedule at its April 13 meeting, in addition to hearing why the technical advisory group decided not to recommend adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the immunization schedule.
The board could choose to agree with the technical advisory group and not require it, or go against the technical advisory group and add it to the list anyway, requiring it for the school year 2022-23.
Beyond those two options, the board could also look further into future school years, instead of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine this fall.
Keith Grellner, chairman of the State Board of Health, said the process was public. He encouraged members of the public to use the council’s website at sboh.wa.gov to learn more about the process, as well as to submit public comments.
“We are aware of social media and other platforms that fail to get their information from there and spread misinformation or misinformation, and I encourage the public not to make decisions or assumptions based on other people’s information, but to go to our webpage and get the information,” Grellner said.
Some medical groups, including the Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials, have asked the Board of Health to include a vaccine in the state’s immunization schedule only after it is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The COVID-19 vaccine for children and adolescents is in various stages of the federal processes for use and approval.
The Pfizer vaccine for adolescents 16 and older has received full FDA approval, but for children under 5 there is no vaccine available.
The COVID vaccine for ages 12 to 15 is being considered for full approval, but remains in emergency use. Similarly, the vaccine for ages 5 to 11 is also licensed for emergency use currently.
Those interested in submitting public comments on the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in schools can email the Board of Health or send letters. In addition, testimonials and public comments will be collected during the April 13 meeting. Visit sboh.wa.gov/i-want-to/contact-board-member to learn more.