Jan 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Red states fight school vaccine mandates

States with student vaccine mandates or mandate bans
Reproduced from National Academy for State Health Policy; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

One in three states has already prohibited COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools — even before the FDA has fully approved vaccines for children.

Why it matters: The Biden administration hoped to rely on schools as a "trusted messenger" in support of coronavirus vaccines, but schools have become a political battleground as the Omicron variant roars across the U.S.

The big picture: The laws passed to date take different approaches, but the result is that schools in 17 states cannot require COVID-19 vaccines, according to the latest data compiled by the National Academy for State Health Policy.

  • For some states, that's the case even as schools expect students to receive other recommended childhood vaccinations like measles, polio and chickenpox.

What we're watching: The issue of vaccinations in schools is set to dominate the agendas as legislatures resume their 2022 sessions.

  • New Hampshire is taking up dueling bills: a Democratic measure requiring COVID vaccinations in both K-12 schools and colleges, and a Republican bill specifically prohibiting them.
  • Pennsylvania and Missouri lawmakers also are considering bans.

The other side: California, Louisiana and the District of Columbia have imposed K-12 student vaccine mandates, to take effect once a COVID vaccine receives full FDA approval for a student's age group.

  • The Los Angeles Unified School District — the first major district in the U.S. to call for such a mandate — delayed enforcement due to a lack of good alternatives for students who don’t comply. Still, almost 90% of those students had complied three months after it was announced.

Flashback: The Pfizer COVID vaccine was first OK'd for use under an emergency use authorization, which allows the use of unapproved medical products, including vaccines, during public health emergencies.

  • That vaccine later received full approval for those 16 and older and remains available under an EUA for children ages 5-15.
  • In December, Pfizer submitted a request for full approval for their vaccine in children 12-15.

What they're saying: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a former school principal, last month told BuzzFeed the Democratic Party does “not yet” have a compelling message on schools in the age of COVID.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), meanwhile, is pushing legislation at the federal level that would block schools from requiring students to get COVID vaccines.
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