Spokane parents share mixed feelings over health board’s decision to not require COVID vaccine for students

SPOKANE, Wash. – On Wednesday, the Washington State Board of Health (BOH) said students will not be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school. It’s a decision many parents waited months for.

In October, the BOH voted to convene a technical advisory group to look at nine different criteria and figure out if the COVID-19 vaccine should be added to the list of required shots for kids to go to school and child care. That group started meeting over the last few months and had to look at the vaccine’s efficacy, how easy it’d be to implement a requirement and more.

The technical advisory group voted against recommending it, which the BOH agreed and adopted today.

Although both board members and the group do believe the vaccine is safe and effective, they need more data before making it a requirement. Another issue that didn’t meet the criteria is the public’s acceptance of the vaccine.

Several comments online and in the public comment portion of the meeting from parents say they did not support a requirement and that some would pull their kids out of school if the vaccine were required.

Some parents were even frustrated that the board would consider it a requirement.

“My heart was actually hurting a bit for how I heard the frustration that somehow the board should somehow throw out this conversation before now when actually, the technical advisory group needed to complete its process,” said Patty Hayes, a member of the board of health. “We needed that to be transparent. We needed both the Department of Health and our staff to pull together the experts and bring it as a total package back.”

“This is, again, an issue that is very challenging and has been said before. We’ll continue to advocate for vaccines because we know they’re effective, but we also have to look at the social implications thereof,” added Dr. Bob Lutz, a board member with the WA BOH.

Moms like Kimi Clifton don’t agree with the decision. She believes the COVID vaccine should be required in schools.

“I feel like it’s any other vaccine, that it’s a requirement and then you get to go,” Clifton said.

Students are required to have the chickenpox, polio, mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) shots to go to school. Medical, religious, philosophical and personal exemptions can be requested for those vaccines except for the MMR vaccine. The state does not allow personal or philosophical exemptions for the MMR vaccine.

The BOH said the COVID vaccine would’ve had exemptions, too, but the board ultimately unanimously decided against making it a requirement for students to go to school.

Spokane mom Kari Hayes says she’s glad they made that decision.

“It’s everyone’s choice and if you choose to vaccinate your child, that’s great,” she said. “I believe in my heart, that it’s parents’ choices and it should not be something that’s required in school.”

Although the board decided not to require the vaccine Wednesday, board members say it could be revisited in the future.

“For example, if a new variant were to rise that’d cause more severe disease, specifically more severe disease in children, that might prompt us to reevaluate the risk and benefits of COVID-19 vaccine in children,” said Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, a member of the technical advisory group and the Chief Science Officer for the Washington Department of Health.

Board members could also reconsider the COVID vaccine when the FDA fully approves the vaccine.

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