Panel opts against new vaccine requirement for Washington schools

A state advisory group has decided against recommending a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students in K-12 schools.

The state Board of Health last fall created a separate technical advisory group tasked with researching whether a COVID vaccine would meet all the scientific criteria needed to be added to the list of required K-12 immunizations. The volunteer group was made up of doctors, public health officers, state and local education leaders and community organizers.

The group has met several times and in a vote late last month, six were in favor of a COVID vaccine requirement in schools, seven were against and four were unsure, The Seattle Times reported. That means the group will recommend against adding the COVID vaccine to the state’s administrative code when it presents its findings to the board.

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"We need to keep our eye on the long term of what we’re trying to accomplish, and I think that’s community health overall," Greg Lynch, a member of the advisory group and superintendent of the Olympic Educational Service District 114, said during the Feb. 24 meeting. "We can’t afford right now to create a movement where the call is ‘Go fast now,’ without having a complete picture (of long-term data), which I worry about."

Others also expressed concerns about a lack of vaccine data for school-aged kids and potentially unpredictable social impacts from imposing a mandate.

"As a clinician, I’m used to uncertainty," said Dr. Ben Wilfond, another group member and a pulmonologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. "I actually think the data with regards to COVID is more than sufficient for me to recommend this for anybody enthusiastically.

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"But for those who are not ready to be there themselves and the implications of having this as a school requirement, all the things that come with that far outweigh the value of incremental change in (community) vaccination that might happen … if we had this requirement."

The technical group investigated COVID shots’ efficacy and affordability, the morbidity of the disease, and the reality of delivering and tracking shots.

According to the state’s administrative code that requires immunizations for entry to schools or day cares, students are required to be vaccinated against, or show proof of acquired immunity for, chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and a few other diseases.

Students with medical, religious, philosophical or personal exemptions are excluded from the requirement.

The board is expected to make a decision on next steps at a meeting in April.

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