Student-athletes become the latest target of school vaccination mandates

And in Hawaii, one of the first states to require vaccines for students in school-sanctioned sports, the state’s Department of Education postponed the start of its fall track season entirely. so players can be vaccinated by the end of September unless they qualify for a medical exam. or religious exemption.

“This is the start of a movement,” Fairfax County Public School Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in an interview. The Virginia system in suburban Washington, DC, is home to nearly 190,000 students and requires winter and spring athletes aged 16 and older to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by November 8. Young athletes should undergo regular viral testing if they are not vaccinated (those during the fall sports season, however, are not subject to the requirement).

“I have no doubts that more districts, more states and governors are going to realize that in order to preserve American public education in person and to preserve the American sport experience, we need to vaccinate our students and our athletes,” did he declare.

Forty-five percent of 12 to 17 year olds – about 10.7 million children – were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of September 29, according to an analysis of federal data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. This has helped fuel a new wave of vaccine requirements for K-12 students, presenting the latest option to help control the pandemic, especially among children most likely to share locker rooms and crowded stadiums.

The requirements respond to urgent requests for vaccination of adolescent athletes from the Biden Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Sports Medicine Associations. They also show how far educators, as well as city and state leaders, are willing to go to entice older children to get vaccinated – dangling the potential of losing a favorite pastime for the sake of it. push hesitant families to vaccinate.

“I am very supportive – both personally and as secretary of health and social services – of a school district, a local jurisdiction, of a governor who says, ‘It’s time to look after our children. to school safe and we will therefore move towards requiring masks or vaccinations, ”HHS secretary Xavier Becerra told the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

School administrators say they have already seen dozens of students held up outside of in-person lessons after being exposed to infected teammates. These concerns underscore warnings from national health officials about close unmasked contact between unvaccinated people in high-risk sports such as soccer and wrestling – as well as activities involving heavy breathing, chanting, shouting. , playing instruments or exercises indoors.

“Students who do extracurricular activities that involve close contact with other people would be at a higher risk of potentially contracting Covid-19,” said Tina Tan, infectious disease expert at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. and former member of the Board of Directors of the Infectious Diseases Society. from America.

“If you say these kids need to be vaccinated before they can play, it kind of sends a message to other kids in different extracurricular activities that it’s something they might have to do,” she said.

Expanding vaccination requirements for athletes and other students elsewhere in the country can still take time.

While Pfizer and BioNTech recently submitted safety and efficacy data on their vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 to the Food and Drug Administration, an agency decision is likely in a few weeks. This vaccine is fully approved for people 16 years of age and older, and available under emergency authorization for adolescents 12 to 15 years old. Even then, governors and lawmakers in 16 states enacted some sort of ban on student vaccination warrants against Covid-19. , according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, including jurisdictions that have resisted President Joe Biden’s efforts to expand federal vaccine requirements for adults.

“Unvaccinated adolescents are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized” because of Covid-19 than those who are vaccinated, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a panel organized by the National Federation of Associations of state high schools in September. “If we [wouldn’t] Send players to a football game without their helmets and protections, or to a football game without their shin guards, why would we send them to compete without getting vaccinated? “

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s school reopening guidelines include a clear warning: High-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or canceled in areas where the virus is spreading at high levels, unless all participants are not fully immunized.

This orientation did not prevent the start of the fall season. Ninety-three percent of U.S. counties were experiencing high community transmission of Covid-19 on Friday, according to the CDC. Yet the approaching winter season and its indoor competitions, such as basketball, hockey and wrestling, are putting some school officials on high alert.

Adolescent vaccination rates are uneven locally. The AAP concluded that more than two-thirds of eligible children received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in 10 states, while less than 50% of them received at least one dose in 21 states. The number of children receiving their first dose is also at its lowest since injections were made available for some of them.

New cases of Covid-19 in children remained “exceptionally high” until September 23, according to the pediatric organization. Serious illness and death are rare among children, but officials at the children’s hospital have warned the Biden administration of their facilities’ limited capacity.

“The problem with teens in track and field is that it’s hard to be left behind in many sports, wearing a mask can be difficult to do consistently in some sports, and in some sports it’s basically impossible. to keep a mask, ”said Anne Liu, a contagious woman. disease specialist at Stanford University.

In Baltimore City Public Schools, where all winter season athletes must be fully immunized by Nov. 1, the requirement is to support a school testing program that has detected more than 250 cases in schools (out of approximately 88,000 students and staff) in the last 10 days.

“The main factor is that we want our student-athletes to be safe,” said John Davis, chief of Baltimore schools, of the district’s sports vaccination requirement. “It’s 100% the right thing to do. “

Whether expanding vaccinations among schoolchildren is a good strategy in the fight against Covid-19, on the other hand, depends on the goals of the government and the general public.

Global eradication of the virus is not on the table, said David Salmon of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University. And reducing the death rate from Covid-19 and its strain on the healthcare system may not require high vaccination rates in children.

“But if you really want to control the disease, then the kids are really important,” Salmon said. “They are lovely and adorable little disease vectors. If we are not able to immunize children, we are going to have a very hard time controlling Covid in the community. “

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