The Washington State Board of Health has voted to not require COVID-19 vaccines for children to attend schools and day cares.
Earlier this year, the technical advisory group, made up of representatives from public health and education sectors statewide, had recommended that the board not require the COVID vaccine for school entry after considering nine criteria, studying the data and collecting input from experts.
That group concluded that the vaccine was safe and effective at preventing disease, and reducing the risk of transmission.
The group disagreed about whether the vaccine was cost effective and how a requirement might be a burden to comply with, and members had worries over public sentiment. It was for these reasons that the technical advisory group voted to not recommend the COVID vaccine be required for students. The vaccine is required for most teachers and child care workers in Washington, though.
Ultimately, the board agreed with their advisory group.
Board members said their decision is not a signal that vaccines are not effective against the virus, however.
“The Department of Health very much supports the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations, and particularly, it’s been shown to prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death, and we believe it’s safe and effective in all populations,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said on Wednesday.
But while board members agreed the vaccine is safe and effective, they also acknowledged that contending with public sentiment and the burden of compliance were too great .
Board members wanted to see some data that is not yet available, including studies showing how vaccines impact virus transmission in schools or how vaccinated children can bring down COVID hospitalization rates.
School districts across the state, as well as their representatives on the technical advisory group, expressed concerns about the work necessary to enforce a newly mandated vaccine in the schools, especially when exemptions are accepted and must be processed. Some Board of Health members expressed support for increasing resources for school nurses and districts to be able to serve their students as a result.
Additionally, some parents, including some of those publicly commenting on Wednesday, threatened to pull their children out of public schools should a COVID vaccine mandate go into effect.