Nov 1, 2022 - News

D.C. Council considers tossing school COVID vax mandate

Illustration of a scale on top of a syringe

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The D.C. Council is considering suspending the city's student COVID vaccine mandate as vaccination rates lag.

Why it matters: It's been challenging for schools to enforce the requirement that all students, including public, private, and parochial, get their first COVID shot. As of Sept. 27, around 46% of D.C. public school students were still out of compliance.

What they’re saying: "I was surprised that we are one of three jurisdictions in the country that has a vaccine mandate for kids for COVID," D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson told reporters Monday.

  • “There is now discussion ... that maybe the virus is evolving into something more like the flu, which is serious, but we don't have a vaccine mandate for the flu,” he added.

Context: Interest in shots, especially the bivalent booster shot which targets Omicron variants, is lagging considerably.

Zoom in: In D.C., only 6.5% of residents have gotten the new booster — compared to around 29.5% of Washingtonians who received the previous booster.

  • In Maryland, uptake for the new booster as of Oct. 28 is around 11.5% — compared to around 44% for the previous booster.
  • In Virginia, 51% of residents have gotten a booster shot, but state-level data doesn’t distinguish between the new bivalent booster and the previous booster.

Zoom out: National and local health officials say they have exhausted messaging tactics and available resources to reach reluctant or disinterested people about vaccines, per the Washington Post.

  • But Neil Sehgal, University of Maryland associate professor of health policy and management, says federal officials have played a role in some of this fatigue and disinterest.

“It's hard to convince people to get boosters when the parallel narrative from the administration is that the pandemic is over,” he says.

The big picture: Beyond COVID, both flu season and RSV, a respiratory illness that can be critical in children, has hit the nation hard this year, worrying public health experts. Local hospitals, including Children's National, are near capacity.

Be smart: Pharmacies, COVID centers, and other community vaccination sites currently carry both flu and booster shots. Find out here where to get vaccinated.

Share your thoughts: Are you a local parent, teacher, or student with thoughts on the COVID vaccine mandate? Reply directly to this email to tell us how you feel.

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