DC urges routine student vaccinations as numbers lag
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) emphasized at a press conference Monday that for the next school year, the city will strictly enforce school vaccine requirements, including vaccines for polio, measles and hepatitis. Any student who is not up to date with their vaccinations within 20 days of the start of the school year will not be allowed to attend, she said. There will be no virtual learning option for them.
Behind DC’s race to get kids vaccinated before school starts
The DC Council passed legislation last year that would require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but that won’t go into effect until the Food and Drug Administration gives full approval for a vaccine. A vaccine for children as young as 5 has only received emergency clearance, not full approval.
“We know that parents get their kids vaccinated every year and we need to get back to that cycle of making sure our kids are vaccinated,” Bowser said at the press conference, which took place in the parking lot of the Town. Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, or THEARC, a large community center in southeast Washington with a Children’s National Hospital health clinic. “An outbreak of measles and whooping cough in a world where we have safe and effective vaccines should be unacceptable.”
The district had relatively low youth compliance rates for routine vaccinations even before the coronavirus pandemic made non-emergency doctor visits less frequent — and rates have only dropped since then. Officials didn’t have specific numbers on the percentage of children up to date on vaccines, but Thomas Farley — senior assistant director of community health administration at DC Health — said only 80% of children in the kindergarten were in compliance.
DC has struggled to get students vaccinated during the pandemic. Will the coronavirus shots be any better?
At a Healthy Youth and Schools Commission meeting last month, a city official estimated that if the city were to enforce the vaccination requirement at that time, 20,000 students would be sent home. them. That’s just over 20% of the entire traditional public and charter school population.
District schools have not strictly enforced routine vaccination requirements this school year. Her app is said to have kept many children out of school after a large chunk of students missed more than a year of in-person classes during the pandemic. In February 2021, when the city partially reopened schools, only students with up-to-date vaccinations were allowed to enroll in in-person classes, preventing many students – especially in the city’s poorer neighborhoods – to attend.
Currently, there are significant racial disparities between those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus in DC and those who are not. Fifty-eight percent of white children ages 5 to 11 are fully immunized, compared to 25 percent of black children in that age range, according to city immunization data.
That trend continues for 16- and 17-year-olds, who as of June are the only group of students who would need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend school in the fall. Eighty-seven percent of white students in this age group are vaccinated, compared to 57% of black students.
Bowser said that even without full FDA approval, there are significant consequences in schools for unvaccinated students, as those who are unvaccinated have stricter quarantine rules, making them more likely to be out of school.
“They’re missing school right now,” Bowser said. “Because if there’s covid exposure in their class and they’re not vaccinated, they can’t go to school.”