School and health officials in the D.C. area say they currently have no plans to require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus this fall, even as they prepare to provide shots for thousands of adolescents before summer break.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to give final approval Wednesday for children aged 12 to 15 to receive the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Nearly 455,000 Marylanders are in that age group and leaders are “eagerly” awaiting the greenlight, Charles Gischler, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said in an email.
Officials see the expanded eligibility as a way for the state’s 6 million residents to move “closer to herd immunity,” but they have stopped short of adding it to the required immunizations for schools, Mr. Gischler said.
“There is currently no mandate to get vaccinated, but we encourage everyone who is eligible to do so to protect themselves, their families and their community,” Mr. Gischler said in the email. “At this time, there are no known plans to add COVID-19 vaccine to the list of immunizations required for school.”
In Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, officials are using local vaccination rates to determine when and how to ease coronavirus restrictions.
Local jurisdictions in Maryland have the authority to enact stricter measures than those enforced by the state, and in Montgomery — more jabs means fewer rules.
Montgomery health officials predict that half of the county’s more than 1 million residents will be fully vaccinated by the end of the month, according to county council member Andrew Friedson.
“This is critical because once we hit the 50 percent/fully vaccinated mark, all activities and business in Montgomery County will follow any State or Maryland Department of Health requirements in-place at the time,” Mr. Friedson, a Democrat, said in an email.
Council President Tom Hucker told reporters Monday that he is urging the public school system to establish vaccine clinics at schools “in the most highly impacted areas.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has said that up to 500,000 of the commonwealth’s more than 7 million residents are between 12 to 15 years old.
Mr. Northam urged people to get vaccinated, noting that he still cannot smell or taste after being diagnosed with the coronavirus nearly eight months ago.
Virginia State Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula told ABC 8News at the end of April that he would not “rule out” a statewide coronavirus vaccine mandate for K-12 schools this fall.
“I would be surprised if we move in that direction I think there will be a lot of discussion over the summer,” Dr. Avula said.
Natalie Talis, population health manager for the Alexandria Health Department, said in an email that city officials are “working with both public and private schools to coordinate and promote vaccination events to families.”
“We’re also working with some teachers and youth-serving organizations to prepare to address vaccine related questions and encourage students and families to protect themselves,” Ms. Talis said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that Children’s National Hospital in the District will play a large role in vaccinating the city’s 12- to 15-year-olds.
A spokesperson said the hospital already has received thousands of pre-registrants through its online portal.
“Since opening pre-registration for 12-15 year-olds in D.C. and Prince George’s County about a week ago, Children’s National has had nearly 5,900 pre-registrations in that age group,” a spokesperson said in an email.
A D.C. Health Department official said that the city has not yet decided whether to mandate the vaccine for students.
“At this time, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only vaccine with authorization for persons aged 16 or 17 years. A decision regarding whether if students who are 16 years old and older will be required to receive a COVID vaccine to attend school for Fall 2021 classes has not been made at this time,” the spokesperson said in an email.
According to the CDC, “[s]chool vaccination requirements help safeguard children and adolescents by making sure they are protected when they get to school, where potential for vaccine-preventable disease transmission is higher.”
Immunizations for tetanus, polio and the measles are among the CDC’s current recommended vaccines for students under age 18 — all three of which also are required by regional schools.