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Will The COVID-19 Vaccine Be Required For School? Experts Explain

The answer is surprisingly complex.

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The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is exciting news, but many are left with questions about what's next for people in the U.S. For instance, will COVID-19 vaccines be required by schools? Romper spoke with a variety of experts representing public and private schools all over the country, as well as experts in vaccination and immunization, and they all had one resounding answer.

For the most part, requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for children is not a priority at this time. "No, I do not expect we will see any COVID-19 vaccine requirements for school attendance in 2021," Allison N. Winnike, J.D., President & Chief Executive Officer of The Immunization Partnership, tells Romper. Because people under the age of 15 are not approved to receive the COVID-19 vaccine yet, any kind of requirement is still a far ways off. "I would not expect school requirements for a COVID-19 vaccine until there was an FDA approved vaccine for the pediatric population, which is many months in the future as those clinical trials are still ongoing," says Winnike. Other experts agree. "At this point, vaccine trials in children are ongoing or being initiated, although these trials are only enrolling children aged 12-18 years. More time and safety data are required before the age de-escalation process is implemented, and younger children can be included in trials," as Anita Shet, MD, PhD., Director of Child Health for the International Vaccine Access Center, tells Romper via email. "Hence the requirement for COVID vaccination of children may not be feasible in the near future."

Public Schools

In addition to waiting for the general vaccine rollout for children, any vaccination requirements may depend on where you live. Currently in the United States, vaccine requirements for public school attendance vary from state to state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For now, however, it does not look like any states will require the COVID-19 vaccine for school attendance in the near future. "Pennsylvania has no plans to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine," a Department of Health representative tells Romper via email. "DHSS has said publicly the State of Missouri is not imposing any COVID-19 vaccination mandates at this time. As for higher education institutions, we have not heard that it will become required," as Assistant Commissioner for Postsecondary Policy, Dr. Mara Woody, tells Romper.

Representatives from California share the same sentiments. "The CDE acknowledges that COVID-19 vaccines may not be administered fast enough to, on their own, enable the safe reopening of school campuses in the 2021 spring semester. California will need to accelerate frequent and rapid coronavirus testing of asymptomatic school staff and students in order to help students return to in-person learning sooner," a representative from the California Department of Public Education tells Romper. "As a result, for the time being we anticipate distance learning to continue in some form in the majority of public school districts statewide."

Private Schools

As expected, private schools in the United States are facing the same issues. "Currently, there is no vaccine approved for minors, so no school in the country will be able to mandate it in the short term," Myra McGovern, Vice President of Media for the National Association of Independent Schools, tells Romper via email. Whether your child attends a public or private school, it looks like the COVID-19 vaccine will not be a requirement any time soon, perhaps throughout the rest of the year.

Making Schools Safer

So if vaccines for children are still a few months out, how can schools make education as safe as possible in the meantime? It looks like distance learning will continue to be the reality for many. "Vaccinating our teachers, administrators, and staff will help reduce the threat, but our goal is to eventually have everyone in the schools vaccinated to create a safe learning environment," says Winnike. "Until then, remote learning should be made available to students so they are not forced to congregate in large groups inside the school." Experts also acknowledge the limits of distance learning, and understand that returning to a classroom as soon as possible is the goal. "As other at-risk adults such as educators and essential workers are included in subsequent phases of vaccine rollout, disease burden is likely to continue to decrease, which can lead to schools re-opening and moving back towards in-person classes," says Dr. Shet. "This will greatly help those left behind in the education system in the past year, as virtual and online classes became the made mode of education, a system that clearly widened inequities, and worsened learning disparities." Although COVID-19 vaccination for school children will not be mandated for some time (if ever), the usual coronavirus safety precautions, including distance learning, will be part of education for the foreseeable future.

Experts:

Myra McGovern, Vice President of Media for the National Association of Independent Schools

Anita Shet, MD, PhD., Director of Child Health for the International Vaccine Access Center

Allison N. Winnike, J.D., President & Chief Executive Officer of The Immunization Partnership

Dr. Mara Woody, Assistant Commissioner for Postsecondary Policy

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