The Washington Post

Vaccinatio­n deadline is nearing for D.C. youth

Students 12 and older must receive coronaviru­s shots to attend school

- BY LAUREN LUMPKIN AND PERRY STEIN

D.C. students who are 12 and older must be vaccinated against the coronaviru­s to attend school this coming academic year.

The youth vaccine mandate in D.C. is among the strictest in the nation, according to health experts, and is being enacted in a city with wide disparitie­s in vaccinatio­n rates between its White and Black children. Overall, about 85 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 15 have been vaccinated against the virus, but the rate drops to 60 percent among Black children in this age range.

If the city does not close this gap but does strictly enforce the vaccine mandate this fall, students of color — who experience­d disproport­ionately large academic setbacks during the pandemic — could be at home in significan­t numbers next academic year.

“Our goal is that no child should miss a single day of school,” Asad Bandealy, the chief of the D.C. Department of Health’s Health Care Access Bureau, said at a news conference last week at Mary’s Center, a community health clinic where children can be vaccinated. “And that means we need to get started now.”

School starts Aug. 29 in the D.C. system.

D.C. is one of few districts to make coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n a requiremen­t for attending school. The mandate reflects, in part, the city’s unique education governance structure. The requiremen­t came from the 13member D.C. Council, not from a school board. And because D.C. is a federal district rather than a state, there is no state health agency with which the city can be in conflict.

Elsewhere in the country, the New Orleans public school system in February added the coronaviru­s vaccine to its list of

required immunizati­ons for children 5 years and older. The rest of the state was scheduled to do the same for the upcoming school year, but changed course in May because the vaccines did not yet have full approval from the Food and Drug Administra­tion for children under 16. Full approval for the vaccine for ages 12 to 15 was granted in early July.

Some of the country’s largest school districts are encouragin­g but not mandating that children be vaccinated. Students in New York City public schools must be vaccinated against the coronaviru­s only if they plan to participat­e in certain sports, musical theater or other activities the district deems to be “high-risk.” Los Angeles Unified School District delayed a mandate that was to take effect in the fall, pointing to the vaccinatio­n rates among older students and what the district’s superinten­dent said had been low transmissi­on in schools. About 78 percent of students age 12 and above in the Los Angeles district were fully vaccinated before the end of the school year in May, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, just 31 percent of children nationwide between the ages of 5 and 11 have been fully vaccinated. Anne Liu, an infectious-diseases doctor and clinical associate professor at Stanford University, said public health officials want that number to increase.

“I think it is to the benefit of the children and teachers and staff in the schools, and the rest of the city,” Liu said about the coronaviru­s vaccine requiremen­t in D.C., adding that such mandates are a “positive thing to work towards.”

Still, D.C. has a long-standing reputation of failing to enforce its immunizati­on requiremen­ts in schools. But officials say that this year will be different and that they have an urgent plan to get students their shots this summer. They are mailing fliers, placing ads at bus stations, sending out mobile vaccine vans to communitie­s and calling thousands of parents whose children’s vaccinatio­ns are out of date. Health clinics are opening up hundreds more appointmen­ts each weeks for youth vaccinatio­ns.

In addition to coronaviru­s vaccines, students must receive their routine immunizati­ons — including for measles, polio and whooping cough — to enroll in school. Students have 20 days from the first day of school to be in compliance with vaccine requiremen­ts before they are barred from attendance. Schools should have data showing which students have been vaccinated to encourage families with unvaccinat­ed students to get their shots if they show up to the first day of school without them.

Because the FDA fully authorized the coronaviru­s vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old this summer, students in this age group have until around the end of September to get that vaccine, according to city law. Children under 12 are not required to get the coronaviru­s vaccine because the shots for this age group have received only emergency-use authorizat­ion.

Many students missed routine doctor appointmen­ts during the pandemic, and local officials estimate that a quarter of students are out of date with their vaccines.

Bandealy, the D.C. health official, said that high-schoolers have the highest out-of-compliance rates.

He noted, though, that the D.C. data may not reflect the vaccinatio­n status of students who received shots in Maryland or Virginia.

D.C.’S youth vaccine mandate has been nearly a year in the making. In October, the D.C. Council introduced legislatio­n calling for the coronaviru­s vaccine to be on the list of vaccines required for enrollment in school.

The law stipulates that the mandate goes into effect only when the shot has received full FDA authorizat­ion. Once that happens, students have 70 days to get the coronaviru­s vaccine to remain in school. For all vaccines, students can seek religious and medical exemptions.

In the Washington metro area, D.C. is unique in its student mandate. Montgomery County Public Schools — Maryland’s largest school district, with roughly 160,000 students — has no coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n requiremen­t for students. Under a policy set by the board of education, school district employees are required to submit proof of vaccinatio­n or be tested weekly.

Prince George’s County Public Schools, also in Maryland, has no coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n requiremen­t for staffers or students but did require and provide weekly testing for unvaccinat­ed staffers at the height of the pandemic.

In other areas of school life, the D.C. system has been more stringent on covid protocols in comparison with other regional school systems. The school district retained a mask mandate as other school systems dropped theirs. Prince George’s dropped its mask mandate July 1 and plans to begin the school year with a mask-optional policy.

Among Northern Virginia’s school systems, staff vaccinatio­ns against the coronaviru­s are required in Alexandria City and Arlington public schools. The school districts in Fairfax and Loudoun counties are not mandating employee vaccinatio­n.

Overall, about 85 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 15 have been vaccinated against the virus, but the rate drops to 60 percent among Black children in this age range.

 ?? AMANDA Voisard for THE WASHINGTON Post ?? Cayden Malone, 8, receives a coronaviru­s vaccine at a walk-up vaccinatio­n site held at the Hillcrest Recreation Center on Nov. 6. The D.C. public school system is requiring students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronaviru­s to begin the school year on Aug. 29.
AMANDA Voisard for THE WASHINGTON Post Cayden Malone, 8, receives a coronaviru­s vaccine at a walk-up vaccinatio­n site held at the Hillcrest Recreation Center on Nov. 6. The D.C. public school system is requiring students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronaviru­s to begin the school year on Aug. 29.

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