CHICAGO, Ill. — This week, a federal judge in Texas tossed out a lawsuit from hospital workers over a vaccination requirement. Now, some are asking whether a potential school vaccine mandate could be forthcoming and whether that could become the next battleground.
From the onset of the pandemic to June 10, an estimated 4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19. While they make up less than a quarter percent of total deaths, more than 300 have died.
“This virus, COVID-19, has certainly killed far more children than influenza does every year,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“One of the biggest reasons that we haven't seen as much COVID as we would now is because at some level, we did close schools,” said Offit.
But what happens come fall? A looming question is whether COVID-19 vaccines should be mandated for school children. Dozens of universities have already indicated that students who were not immunized would not be allowed back for in-person learning.
“You can't force people to take a vaccine. However, you can prevent them from showing up,” said Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University.
Post predicts once the vaccines have full FDA approval, mandates could be forthcoming.
“They will eventually receive approval because science shows that these are very efficacious in stopping the transmission of COVID. And when that happens, you can mandate it,” said Post.
Still, just over half of Americans appear to be in favor of mandates.
According to a recent Gallup poll of 3,500 adults, 51% were in favor of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for middle-schoolers, 56% for high schoolers, and 61% for college students.
Some of the hesitancy could be due in part to an extremely rare occurrence of myocarditis, inflammation in the lining of the heart among some teens after getting their second dose.
“The myocarditis issue also sort of has made things a little more difficult, even though it appears to be rare,” said Offit.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 79 cases of myocarditis reported in 16 to 17-year-olds. That number was expected to be between two and 19 cases.
It’s prompted the CDC to take an emergency look at the issue. But while there may be pushback, health experts say the benefits will likely outweigh the fractional risks.
“In the past, we had children who were wearing masks, were social distancing, especially in the cafeteria, smaller class sizes. That's all going to go away,” said Offit. “We're going to head into the winter with, at least in certain areas, a relatively under-vaccinated population.”
While it’s up to individual states and health departments, Offit says much in the way that diseases like smallpox, measles, and others were wiped out through school-mandated immunizations, a COVID-19 vaccine could join that list.
“This is worse than any other vaccine-preventable disease. So, why would we not mandate this vaccine?”
But resistance by some could mean learning through a screen come fall.