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DC schools’ covid vaccine mandate rare among national school systems

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DC students ages 12 and older must be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend school this upcoming school year.

DC’s youth vaccination mandate is among the strictest in the nation, according to health experts, and is being enacted in a city with wide disparities in vaccination rates between its white and black children. Overall, about 85% of students aged 12 to 15 have been vaccinated against the virus, but the rate drops to 60% among black children in this age group.

If the city doesn’t close that gap but strictly enforce the vaccination mandate this fall, students of color — who have experienced disproportionate academic setbacks during the pandemic — could be home in significant numbers next academic year.

“Our goal is that no child misses a single day of school,” Asad Bandealy, head of the DC Department of Health’s Health Care Access Office, said at a press conference this week. at Mary’s Center, a community health clinic where children can be vaccinated. “And that means we have to start now.”

School starts August 29 in the DC system.

A quarter of DC children are behind on routine vaccines, officials say

DC is one of the few districts to make coronavirus vaccination a requirement for attending school. The mandate reflects, in part, the city’s unique education governance structure. The demand came from the 13-member DC Council, not a school board. And because DC is a federal district rather than a state, there is no public health agency the city can come into conflict with.

Elsewhere in the country, the New Orleans The public school system in February added the coronavirus vaccine to its list of required vaccinations for children age 5 and older. The rest of the state was expected to do the same for the upcoming school year, but changed course in May because the vaccines had not yet received full Food and Drug Administration approval for children under 16. Full approval of the vaccine for ages 12 to 15 was granted in early July.

Some of the nation’s largest school districts encourage but do not require children to be vaccinated. The students in New York Public Schools need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus only if they plan to participate in certain sports, musical theater or other activities that the district deems “high risk.” Los Angeles Unified School District deferred a mandate that was due to take effect in the fall, highlighting vaccination rates among older students and what the district superintendent said was low transmission in schools. About 78% of students ages 12 and older in the Los Angeles District were fully vaccinated by the end of the school year in May, according to media reports.

In the meantime, just 31 percent children aged 5 to 11 across the country have been fully immunized. Anne Liu, an infectious disease physician and associate clinical professor at Stanford University, said public health officials want that number to rise.

“I think it’s in the best interests of children, teachers and school staff, and the rest of the city,” Liu said of DC’s coronavirus vaccine requirement, adding that many such mandates are a “positive thing to achieve”. ”

Still, DC has a long-standing reputation for not enforcing its vaccination requirements in schools. But officials say this year will be different and they have an urgent plan to get students vaccinated this summer. They send out flyers, place advertisements at bus stations, send mobile vaccination vans into communities and call thousands of parents whose children’s vaccines have expired. Health clinics are opening hundreds of additional appointments each week for youth vaccinations.

Why some parents are skeptical of covid vaccines for young children

In addition to coronavirus shots, students must receive their routine vaccinations – including measles, polio and whooping cough – to enroll in school. Students have 20 days from the first day of school to comply with vaccination requirements before being banned from attendance. Schools should have data showing which students have been vaccinated to encourage families with unvaccinated students to get vaccinated if they show up on the first day of school without them.

Since the FDA fully authorized the coronavirus vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 this summer, students in that age group have until the end of September to get vaccinated, according to city law. Children under the age of 12 are not required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus because injections for this age group have only received emergency use authorization.

Many students have missed routine medical appointments during the pandemic, and local authorities estimate that a quarter of students are out of date with their vaccines.

Bandealy, DC’s health officer, said high school students have the highest rates of noncompliance.

He noted, however, that some students who were vaccinated in Maryland and Virginia may not be reflected in DC data.

DC’s youth vaccine mandate has been around for nearly a year. Last October, the DC Council introduced legislation calling for the coronavirus vaccine to be on the list of vaccines required for school enrollment.

The law states that the warrant does not go into effect until the shot has received full clearance from the FDA. Once that happens, students have 70 days to get the coronavirus vaccine and stay in school. For all vaccines, students can apply for religious and medical exemptions.

In the Washington, DC metropolitan area is unique in its student mandate. Public schools in Montgomery County — Maryland’s largest school district, with about 160,000 students — have no coronavirus vaccination requirements for students. Under a policy set by the school board, school district employees are required to show proof of vaccination or be tested weekly.

Public schools in Prince George’s County, also in Maryland, have no coronavirus vaccination requirements for staff or students, but required and provided weekly testing for unvaccinated staff during the height of the pandemic.

In other areas of school life, the DC system has been stricter on covid protocols compared to other regional school systems. The school district retained a mask mandate as other school systems dropped theirs. Prince George’s dropped its mask mandate on July 1 and plans to start the school year with a mask-optional policy.

In Northern Virginia school systems, staff vaccinations against the coronavirus are mandatory in public schools in Alexandria City and Arlington. School districts in Fairfax and Loudoun counties do not require employee vaccinations.

Hannah Natanson and Nicole Asbury contributed to this report.

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