Student COVID-19 vaccine mandate in NY: why local officials don’t want it

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(WETM) – A new bill has been introduced in New York State that proposes a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students. After recent backlash on vaccine mandates thus far, local officials hope that a mandate won’t be necessary.

“I’m always wary of mandates because of the way people respond them…my hope would be that we’ll be in a place where that wasn’t necessary,” said Dr. Phillip Heavner, assistant chief of pediatrics for Guthrie.

The bill was introduced last week by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), proposing to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines that students must have, such as Hepatitis B or Measles, in order to attend school.

An endorsement was made today by a panel of U.S. health advisers for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11. Most local officials and doctors have advocated their support for children getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I really feel very strongly, this is a safe and effective vaccine and will certainly recommend it for for everyone that that asks me about it,” said Heavner.

After protests broke out across the state when the vaccine was mandated to healthcare workers, local officials are hesitant to support another mandate.

“I think unfortunately, when get into mandating vaccines, that’s part of the issue we’re having with a lot of people not wanting to get vaccinated… It’s not that they don’t believe in the vaccine… basically they don’t want to be told, that it’s mandated,” said Chris Moss, Chemung County executive.

Many local healthcare workers quit their jobs or were fired because of the mandate. Moss says in this situation, parents might even pull their children out of school if their children are forced to get the vaccine.

“I’m sure we’ll see more kids homeschooled, we’ll see school districts being asked to go back to remote sessions,” said Moss.

There are nearly 30 million children in 5-12 age group in the U.S. Pfizer says its two dose pediatric shot is one-third the adult dosage and more than 90 percent effective. Steuben County public health director, Darlene Smith, says approximately one third of a day’s positive cases are from school-aged kids.

“Having this age group [children aged 5-11] eligible will certainly help to bring those numbers down,” said Smith.

Only 30 percent of parents said they would get their children vaccinated right away. Smith thinks a vaccine roll-out for children aged 5-11 will be similar to the roll-out for children aged 12-17.

“In the very beginning, though, they’ll certainly be an interest… but if it’s anything like the 12-17 year old [vaccine roll-out], interests quickly died off after those parents who were most interested got it for their children,” said Smith.

If passed, the bill would be effective 30 days after full federal approval of the vaccine for kids. It would also require the state health department to develop a vaccination program for students.

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