JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed around the country and in Florida, some parents are already looking forward to next fall and wondering: Will my child have to get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend school?
According to Dr. Mobeen Rathore, a pediatric infectious disease expert, we are a long way from knowing the answer to that question.
For starters, studies to see how the newly developed vaccine will affect all children have not been completed.
“Currently, the studies that are available are for children 16 and 17 years of age only. And Pfizer has already started their study where they are including children as young as 12 years of age. So hopefully the next few months — five, six months — we will have data for our children, and then children would be included in these vaccine programs,” Rathore told News4Jax. “There’s no reason to expect that the vaccine will not be safe in children. But until you do the studies, you don’t know.”
Rathore said he’s optimistic the vaccine will be approved and available for children by the time school starts in August 2021.
Heather Seconder said she needs more information before she decides whether her 15 and 17-year-olds will get the vaccine.
Rathore said if the FDA approves the vaccine for children, he thinks that children should be vaccinated for COVID-19.
“Children should get the vaccine even if everybody else gets it, because children need to be protected also,” Rathore said. “Even though children may not get very sick most of the time, they do get sick, they do get hospitalized, they do get into the ICU and intubated and they do die of it. And then also don’t forget, we have this illness that occurs several weeks later, the MIS-C.”
Whether or not the vaccine is made mandatory for students is up to the state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance and recommendation on which vaccines should be given at what age to children. Once the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics make their recommendations, the state can choose to make the vaccine mandatory or not.
A spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools said public schools are governed by Florida Statute 1003.22, which requires school boards to require students to provide a certification of immunization for those immunizations that are required by the Florida Department of Health.
The statute does give parents the chance to opt-out of the immunization requirement for religious conflicts, medical exemption from a licensed physician, determination by the Department of Health and 30-day exemptions for special circumstances.
DCPS also pointed out that the statute has specific provisions for diseases that have been declared a communicable disease emergency by the state or county Department of Health. In that case, the Department of Health is giving the authority to mandate that all students not immunized to be temporarily excluded from school.
Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t specifically addressed COVID-19 vaccines for children, but he has said that he will not make the vaccine mandatory for Floridians.
“I think the fact that we’re not mandating it helps our credibility because the minute you mandate man people would be in the corner, and you would have a lot of problems,” DeSantis said last week. “So we’re offering it, we want as soon as there’s enough supply for everyone who wants it to get it free of charge that’s that’s the goal that will take months, but that’s the goal, but no one will be forced to take it.”
Rathore said the more people that get vaccinated, the better chances that schools can return to normal operations.
“We need to get children back to school. There’s no argument about that,” Rathore said. “At this point in time, let’s focus on those who are around children until we wait to find out the results of the trials and then have it available for children.”