The New York state branch of the American Academy of Pediatrics has strongly urged the state to adopt a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for eligible children attending public and private school, once the vaccines are fully approved by the federal government.
The group, which represents 5,000 pediatricians and related specialists in the state, said it “unequivocally supports the requirement that all children attending school, daycare and after-school activities be immunized against SARS-CoV-2 in accordance with FDA approval of the appropriate vaccines.”
The group's statement added that “religious or philosophical exemptions should not be given.” New York state abolished religious exemptions to required school immunizations in 2019 after a measles outbreak.
The New York AAP's statement was released Tuesday as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering Pfizer and BioNTech’s request for an emergency use authorization (EUA) of their COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11, with a decision expected in the next few weeks.
Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is available for kids ages 12 to 15 years old under an EUA, and fully approved for anyone 16 years and older. The FDA is delaying issuing an EUA for the Moderna vaccine for kids ages 12 to 17 years old as they investigate a possible heightened risk of a rare inflammatory heart condition, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The New York AAP, as well as the national AAP, also recommends vaccinations under the EUA for children over 12 years of age who do not have contraindications with the vaccine.
“It is imperative that we take steps now to protect as many children as we can against COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Warren Seigel, Chair of the NYS AAP, in a statement Tuesday. “As the CDC and FDA continue to test and approve immunization for younger children, we have an obligation to get the vaccine to those children to protect them from infection and severe illness.”
The group also encouraged the continuance of other mitigation efforts in schools including masks, social distancing and hand-washing for all individuals, as well as vaccination mandates for school staffers, including bus drivers, who enter school buildings or encounter students.
New York City officials have thus far rejected the idea of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for schoolchildren, with Mayor Bill de Blasio saying he fears setting another roadblock to getting kids back to school.
"I'm not ready, nor is the Chancellor, to exclude children who are unvaccinated because their parent won't let them be vaccinated,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show Friday. “That's the reality. A child doesn't get to decide, the parent has to give consent. Now 75% of the teenagers already are vaccinated. That's a really promising sign. I think the younger children will be an even higher percentage, ultimately. But I'm not going to--certainly not at this point -- I'm not going to say a child can't come to school if they are unvaccinated because they've been excluded from education for too long."
The decision may ultimately not be de Blasio’s to make, with the likelihood that full federal approval of the vaccines for most school-aged children will take place after he leaves office at the end of the year. (Democratic nominee for mayor, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, said he would consider a vaccine mandate for students once the vaccines are FDA-approved.)
New York City must follow all school immunization requirements set by the state Department of Health, raising the possibility that it will be up to Governor Kathy Hochul to decide whether New York schoolkids will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hochul said she’s “willing to take a step” to require the vaccination eventually if not enough families get their kids vaccinated voluntarily.
“I'm certainly willing to look at this,” she said at her press briefing Wednesday, pointing to California's recent announcement to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the state's list of required school immunizations next fall.
Hochul said she wants to first “encourage people, and have many pediatricians make it part of a child's checkup or part of their basic routine series of getting their vaccinations.”
She added, “So I will monitor that, but I’m willing to take a step if we see numbers that we’re not satisfied with.”