The Question of Mandatory Vaccinations: Can Schools Require COVID-19 Vaccines?

As vaccine rollout continues across the country and schools close for the summer, the view of the public has shifted towards next year. Naturally, one significant question has emerged: should schools require COVID-19 vaccinations for students that are eligible? Read on to find out more.

By Sydney Black

As the 2020-2021 school year comes to a close, many Byram Hills students and teachers have begun to look forward to a greater sense of normalcy next year as more and more COVID restrictions are lifted. But while the opening of the Pfizer vaccine to the 12-year-old and older group promotes this return to normalcy, broader concerns over public health, such as lack of herd immunity or a rush to return to minimal regulations, continue to emphasize the importance of remaining cautious. As part of these concerns, a question arises over whether or not schools can and should require COVID-19 vaccines among their students. For years, individual states, rather than school districts or the federal government, have had the authority to make vaccines mandatory for students. These efforts have been largely successful for putting an end to or minimizing infectious diseases such as polio, tetanus, and diphtheria. Notably, Stanford Children’s Health has reaffirmed this through their stance on the topic, explaining that, “no convincing evidence of harm has been found [from the vaccine]. And although children can have a reaction to any vaccine, the important thing to know is that the benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the possible side effects.” Moreover, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that “Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines since they were authorized for emergency use by FDA [Food and Drug Administration]. These vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. This monitoring includes using both established and new safety monitoring systems to make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe.”  

The hesitation to mandate vaccines in states’ schools has been largely driven by general concerns over personal choice. Therefore, many New York state senators and assemblymen have shown concern over mandating the vaccine, New York State Senator Peter Oberacker spoke out on the topic: “To mandate the vaccine of course is an area that I’m uncomfortable in moving forward with.” Although a statewide policy enforcing mandatory vaccination is unlikely, it is clear that vaccination for COVID-19 in New York has been successfully sustained. Specifically, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office reported that over 70% of New Yorkers over the age of 18 have received at least one vaccine dose. As a result of these widespread efforts to get vaccinated, restrictions, including social gathering limits and social distancing guidelines, have been reduced—a tremendous victory for all New Yorkers. 

As stated initially, any and all requirements for COVID-19 vaccination at schools will be made by individual states; however, these may be inhibited by scientifically incorrect claims regarding the vaccine and concerns over individual freedom. Rising Byram Hills junior Clara Weil chimed in on the debate, arguing that, “it’s reasonable to ask students to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Students are already required to be vaccinated for other diseases, it’s reasonable to require vaccines for the coronavirus.” In a world where vaccines are one of few solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we do not depend on school mandates to reach a higher vaccination rate, but that we as individuals take our own initiative to do the responsible thing and get vaccinated.