Education secretary says COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory for eligible students

Education secretary says COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory for eligible students
© AP/Pool

Education Secretary Miguel CardonaMiguel CardonaPresident, first lady honor teachers at White House awards ceremony Ilhan Omar to Biden: 'Deliver on your promise to cancel student debt' Florida Board of Education approves sanctions on eight school districts over coronavirus mandates MORE on Thursday endorsed making coronavirus vaccines mandatory for eligible students, contending that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots should push governors to implement such a policy.

“Not only do I support it, but I’m encouraging states to come up with a plan to make sure it happens,” Cardona told Politico.

“I would like governors who hold those decisions to make those decisions now that [vaccines] are FDA-approved,” he added.

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Cardona pointed to the effectiveness of the measles vaccine — which is required for children in childcare or public schools in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. — in protecting against infections as reason why the coronavirus vaccine should be mandatory for schoolchildren.

“There’s a reason why we’re not talking about measles today,” Cardona added. “It was a required vaccination, and we put it behind us. So I do believe at this point we need to be moving forward.”

The FDA last month granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. The emergency use authorization, however, is still in place for those ages 12 to 15.

No vaccines have been approved for children under the age of 12 thus far, but Pfizer on Monday announced that according to testing, its COVID-19 vaccine is “safe” and “well tolerated” by children ages 5 to 11.

The company also said “robust neutralizing antibody responses” were observed, and that a “favorable safety profile” was seen in its vaccine trial among children younger than 12 years old.

Cardona’s comments come as the number of eligible students receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine dose continues to decrease.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revealed on Sept. 15 that 273,000 children had received their first coronavirus vaccine dose in the prior week, which was the lowest level seen since the vaccine was first made available for those aged 12 to 15.

The AAP said the number has been on the decline for five consecutive weeks.

According to the AAP, 54 percent of individuals ages 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cardona on Thursday urged governors to work with schools to enact vaccine requirements, especially in pockets of the country that are seeing a high spread of COVID-19.

"Governors should work with their school officials and with their health officials to roll out requirements, especially in areas that are high-spread, and where students might be at risk for going back to remote learning, or hybrid learning, as a result of the spread of Covid-19,” Cardona said.

The education secretary dismissed the possibility that his support for a student vaccine mandate could spark political backlash — especially in conservative-led states — contending that “this is about safely reopening schools.”

“And what we know, based on not only on the COVID-19 vaccine, but the other vaccines that are already mandatory for school enrollment, is that they work. Our students have been disrupted enough, and sometimes you have to be crystal clear on what you believe,” he added.