School districts prepare for potential vaccine mandate for younger students

Pfizer plans to apply for regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between five and 11 years old in early October.

Published: September 17, 2021 4:32pm

Updated: September 19, 2021 11:50pm

(The Center Square) -

With a COVID-19 vaccine for young children expected to become available in the coming months, some school officials are turning their attention to possible state or federal vaccine mandates for students.

Pfizer announced it planned to apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between five and 11 years old in early October. The FDA has said children in clinical trials testing vaccines should be monitored for at least two months for side effects, suggesting that the agency is considering a quicker path to authorize the shot for emergency use than full approval.

Educators and school personnel in Illinois from kindergarten through college are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. This is in addition to the statewide mask mandate announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in August.

Teachers' unions have voiced support of the vaccine and mask rules, but some schools have failed to enforce them and have been punished by the state with nonrecognition.

College students are required by the state to be vaccinated or submit to weekly tests, although many colleges and universities implemented the policy before the governor's mandate. Once a vaccine is available for younger students, will the next move by Pritzker be a vaccine mandate for school-aged children?

Genevra Walters, treasurer of the Large Unit District Association and superintendent of Kankakee schools, said her district hasn't addressed the possibility yet, but is in favor of a vaccine mandate.

"We haven't talked, but based on our numbers of positive cases and quarantined students, I would love for that to be an option," Walters said.

Barry Reilly, superintendent of schools in Bloomington, says his district also has not addressed the possibility yet.

"Obviously a vaccination all the way down to a preschool level will be another big benefit, but right now we are focused on trying to get a Test to Stay program started here in District 87," he said.

The Test to Stay program allows a student who was in contact with a positive case to avoid a quarantine as long as they are asymptomatic. The student is then tested on days 1, 3, 5, and 7.

Reilly said if a vaccine mandate is put in place, his district will conduct vaccination clinics as it did for students 12 and older. As for whether younger kids should get vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available, Reilly said that is not his call.

"While I certainly encourage parents to work with their family doctors and consider getting the vaccine because I think that benefits everyone, those decisions I certainly will leave up to the parents and the medical professionals," Reilly said.

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