Virginia, Washington officials are bearish on vaccine for schools

Health

(NewsNation) — More than two years into the global COVID-19 pandemic, chief medical and public health experts are still warning about the coronavirus, especially during wintertime, when it’s easier for airborne viruses to spread quickly and infect more people.

Yet despite the virus’ persistence and a unanimous CDC vote on Oct. 20 to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the recommended 2023 childhood and adult immunization schedules, Virginia and Washington, D.C., government officials have been reluctant to make the doses mandatory.

Tuesday, for example, Washington council member Christina Henderson is expected to put forward emergency and temporary legislation to delay a law that requires students over 12 to be vaccinated against the coronavirus,

In Washington, the deadline, which will go up for a vote Tuesday, is a complete 180 from when it was introduced and passed late last year.

Speaking to the Washington Post Tuesday, Henderson said the change of course since the initial vote a year ago is due to a shift in how health officials understand the coronavirus, including taking a more relaxed approach to guidance protocols and masking.

Henderson cited universities and school districts that have adopted a new approach in not requiring their students to vaccinate, and the overall decline in COVID-related deaths as well.

Furthermore. D.C. estimates 46% of students are out of compliance with the mandate, likely driving the flip flop as well.

If Henderson’s emergency legislation passes, she told the paper the council will revisit the measure, including determining if it’s needed at all.

“I have no ego about this and saying that revisiting is worth it,” Henderson said in an interview. “For me, it’s about the science evolving.”

Henderson is not the only official in the region who is not a fan of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has been a fierce critic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, was swift to comment following CDC’s Oct. 20 announcement.

On Twitter, Youngkin said, “COVID-19 mandates should be in our rearview mirror. The decision to vaccinate a child against COVID-19 is for Virginia parents to make about what’s best for them and their families. We will not adhere to these CDC mandates. In Virginia, parents matter.”  

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) echoed Youngkin’s sentiments following the recommendation, clarifying in a statement that “there is no direct, immediate impact on COVID-19 vaccine being added to the Immunization Schedule of school required vaccines in Virginia.”

According to the VDH, the General Assembly would need to pass legislation, or the state Board of Health would need to update the rules, for a vaccine mandate to take place — a process that requires a Notice of Intended Regulatory Action and a 60-day public comment period, according to NewsNation affiliate DCNewsNow.

In a statement to DCNewsNow, VDH said that the COVID-19 vaccine will likely not be added to the Vaccines for Children program until it is commercialized, which is not expected until summer of 2023.

“This is a federal program run by each state, and the direct impact on Virginians is that it will enable children in Virginia, who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay, to gain access to COVID-19 vaccinations,” VDH said. 

Across the country, just two places — D.C and California — have ever had COVID vaccine requirements for schools in place or pending. Meanwhile, 21 states ban COVID shot requirements for kids.

Some of the backlash seen vividly in Republican-led states.

“As long as I’m around and as long as I’m kicking and screaming there will be no covid shot mandates for your kids,” Gov. Ron DeSantis, (R)-Florida said Friday, Oct. 21 while giving an update on Hurricane Ian recovery.

The comments were inspired by the CDC’s vote recommending shots for kids as part of the standard vaccine schedule.

The CDC director — speaking at a business event tuesday — said the best way to prepare for possibly elevated covid risk in the winter is to stay up to date on the newest shot.

“We think it’ll broaden your protection, it’ll lengthen your protection and it’ll bridge you through that pretty vulnerable respiratory virus season of the winter,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

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