Student athletes become the latest target for school vaccine mandates

And in Hawaii, one of the first states to mandate vaccines for students in school-sanctioned sports, the state Department of Education completely postponed the start of its track and field season this fall to allow players could be vaccinated by the end of September unless they are entitled to a medical or religious exception.

“This is the beginning of a movement,” said Scott Brabrand, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, in an interview. The Virginia System in suburban Washington, DC is home to nearly 190,000 college students and requires winter and spring athletes ages 16 and older to get Covid-19 vaccinations by November 8th. Younger athletes must have a virus test regularly if they are not vaccinated (but those in the fall sports season are not subject to the requirement).

“I believe that more districts, more states, and governors will recognize that in order to receive American public education and preserve the American athletic experience, we must have vaccinations for our students and athletes,” he said.

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

The requirements meet urgent requests for vaccination of adolescent athletes from the Biden Administration, the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Sports Medicine Associations. They also demonstrate the willingness of educators as well as city and state leaders to encourage older children to get vaccinated – and curb the potential of losing a favorite job to pressure families who are hesitant to vaccinate.

“I am very supportive – both personally and as a health and welfare secretary – a school district, a local jurisdiction, a governor who says, ‘It is time to protect our children in school and we will therefore be in Direction masks or vaccinations required, ‘”HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

School administrators say they have seen dozens of students being kept out of face-to-face classes after contact with infected teammates. These concerns underscore national health authorities’ warnings against close unmasked contact between unvaccinated people in high-risk sports such as soccer and wrestling – as well as activities that involve breathing heavily, singing, shouting, playing instruments or indoor sports.

“Students who do extracurricular activities in close contact with others are at higher risk of potentially contracting Covid-19,” said Tina Tan, an infectious disease expert at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a former board member of Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“When you say these children need to be vaccinated before they can play, it sends a message to other children in various after-school activities that this is something they may need to do,” she said.

Expanding vaccination regulations for athletes and other students in other parts of the country may still take time.

While Pfizer and BioNTech Recently submitted safety and efficacy data about their vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11 to the Food and Drug Administration, a decision by the agency is likely weeks away. This vaccine is fully approved for the elderly 16 and older, and available for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 as part of an emergency permit. Even then, governors and lawmakers in 16 states enacted some sort of ban on Covid-19 vaccine mandates for college students, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, including jurisdictions that have resisted President Joe Biden’s efforts to expand federal adult vaccine requirements.

“Unvaccinated adolescents are ten times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated ones,” said Education Minister Miguel Cardona during a panel hosted by the National Federation of State University Associations in September. “If we [wouldn’t] Send players without helmets and pads to a soccer game or without shin guards to a soccer game, why should we send them to a competition without a vaccination? “

Guidelines for Reopening Schools of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insert a blunt warning: High-risk sports and after-school activities should be virtual or canceled in areas where the virus is spreading, unless all participants are fully vaccinated.

This guide didn’t stop the fall season from starting. Ninety-three percent of U.S. counties saw high levels of Covid-19 community transmission as of Friday. according to CDC. But the approaching winter season and its indoor competitions like basketball, hockey and wrestling have some school officials on high alert.

Vaccination rates among adolescents are inconsistent at the local level. 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 fewer than 50 percent of them received at least one dose in 21 states. The number of children receiving their first dose is also at its lowest level since syringes were made available to some of them.

Meanwhile, new Covid-19 cases in children remained “exceptionally high” until September 23, according to the pediatric organization. Serious illness and death in children are rare, but officials at the Children’s Hospital have warned the Biden government against it tense capacities in their facilities.

“The problem with teenagers in athletics is that in many sports it’s hard to distance yourself, wearing a mask can be difficult in some sports, and in some sports it’s basically impossible to wear a mask,” said Anne Liu, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University.

In Baltimore City Public Schools, where all winter sports enthusiasts must be fully vaccinated by November 1, the requirement is intended to support a school testing program that has detected more than 250 cases in schools (involving 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, Baltimore school principal, of the district’s mandatory sports vaccination. “That is 100 percent correct.”

However, whether expanding vaccinations among school children is a good strategy in the fight against Covid-19 depends on the goals of the government and the 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 lowering the death rate from Covid-19 and the burden on the health system may not require high vaccination rates in children.

“But if you really want to control disease, then children are really important,” said Salmon. “They are beautiful, pretty little disease vectors. If we can’t vaccinate children, it will be really difficult for us to control Covid in the community. “

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