Washington Board of Health committee considers adding COVID vaccine to list of required childhood immunizations

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington State Board of Health committee met virtually Wednesday afternoon to discuss adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required childhood immunizations.

The Board of Health has been working with the Washington Department of Health to bring the technical advisory group together to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine. In October, board members voted to start the process. If the group decides to add the COVID-19 vaccination to the required immunization list, it will then make a recommendation to the Board of Health.

The group has nine criteria it needs to consider before making a decision on whether or not to make it a requirement:

  1. The vaccine is recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
  2. The vaccine is effective based on data from the state.
  3. The vaccine is cost-effective.
  4. There is evidence that the vaccine is safe and has “an acceptable level of side effects.”
  5. The vaccine prevents disease.
  6. The vaccine will help reduce the risk of transmission.
  7. If the vaccine is acceptable by the medical community and public.
  8. Delivery and tracking of the vaccine is reasonable.
  9. That “the burden of compliance for the vaccine… is reasonable for a parent or caregiver.”

Last October, Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal said he did not feel it was appropriate for the state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for students this 2021/22 school year. But he said that could change if and when the vaccine is fully authorized for children.

However, if the vaccine is approved to go on the list of required immunizations, it’s possible it will be required for the next school year.

Requiring vaccines for students to go to school is not a new concept. The state already requires students to have the MMR vaccine, Tdap, Hep B, dTaP, Varicella and polio vaccines.

Parents can request personal/philosophical, religious or medical exemptions for any of the vaccines except the MMR, which the state only allows exemptions for religious and medical reasons.

The COVID-19 vaccine was given emergency authorization use for kids ages 5 to 11 at the beginning of November. Since then, the Washington Department of Health reports 26.9 percent of that age group has initiated vaccinations and 18.3 percent are fully vaccinated.

It could take a few months for the committee to figure out what if the COVID-19 vaccine should be added to the list of required immunizations. Once it votes on it, it will then make a recommendation to the board in a regularly scheduled meeting.

“I must admit, we do not agree with everything that the advisory of immunization practice or that the CDC or others have recommended,” said Tom Pendergrass, the vice chair of the WA State Board of Health. “Our state has reserved the possibility and responsibility of picking those vaccines that are most affecting children or where children are the reservoir for the disease.”

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