Inviting Uproar, CDC to Vote on Recommending Covid Vaccines for Schoolchildren

‘Why are we pretending their decision has no implications for state and local policy?’ one professor asks.

AP/Rogelio V. Solis, file
A Jackson, Mississippi, resident receives a Pfizer booster shot from a nurse at a vaccination site February 8, 2022. AP/Rogelio V. Solis, file

An advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a move that will likely be met with a new uproar, will vote Thursday on whether to add Covid vaccines to the childhood immunization schedule

On Wednesday, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 15-0 to add Covid vaccines to the federally funded Vaccines for Children Program, which provides vaccines at no cost to children from low income families.

While states — not the CDC — determine which vaccines are required for children to attend public schools, they rely on CDC guidance to make their decisions. Now some parents fear Covid vaccine mandates for their children are coming.

“The CDC is marching toward this,” Vinay Prasad, a hematologist-oncologist and professor at Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, tweeted Wednesday. “Why are we pretending their decision has no implications for state and local policy?”

As with everything Covid-related, vaccines and vaccine mandates have become a political lightning rod — especially when it comes to children. Compared to European countries, America is an outlier in authorizing mRNA vaccines to children under age 5 and recommending boosters for all youngsters between the ages of 5 and 11. 

The European Union doesn’t recommend Covid vaccines for children under age 12, and Denmark stopped recommending them for persons under 18. 

Another factor potentially complicating reception of the CDC’s recommendation is plummeting public trust in the agency since the start of Covid. Only 52 percent of Americans have a “great deal of trust” in the CDC, while 20 percent have “none at all,” according to a May 2021 Harvard poll.

Despite the CDC in June approving the vaccine for children under age 5, only 1.7 percent of American children under 2, and 3.2 percent of children between 2 and 4, are fully vaccinated, according to the agency’s own data. For youths under 12 the rate jumps to 31 percent, and is just more than 60 percent for those between 12 and 17.

Children are at the lowest risk for severe infection, hospitalization, and death from Covid. More than 75 percent of American children have already had the disease, according to the CDC. In light of this, some critics argue the CDC is ignoring natural immunity and rushing to recommend vaccines and boosters for children without adequate human trials.

Others take a brighter view. Michael Parry, director of infectious diseases at Stamford Hospital, recommends children get the vaccine, particularly if they are overweight or have asthma, diabetes, or another underlying condition. “The CDC continues to believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, and I think that’s probably true,” he tells the Sun. 

Yet Dr. Parry recognizes the decision will be fraught for some parents. “The completely healthy young man who is maybe 16 or 18 who has no underlying disease — does the benefit outweigh the risk? I’m on the fence with that,” he says. “There are some obvious concerns, particularly the myocarditis issue.”

Many doctors have sounded an alarm about the risk of myocarditis — inflation of the heart muscle — in young men after getting mRNA Covid vaccines. Earlier this month, Florida’s surgeon general, Joseph A. Ladapo, announced the state would no longer be recommending mRNA Covid vaccines for men between ages 18 and 39.

That announcement came after the release of a report finding an 84 percent increase in “cardiac-related death” for this group. “With a high level of global immunity to COVID-19, the benefit of vaccination is likely outweighed by this abnormally high risk of cardiac-related death,” the press release reads.

These findings were widely panned, with criticism falling along familiar political lines. Twenty-one states have passed legislation barring Covid vaccine mandates in public schools. California and Washington, D.C., did the opposite, though implementation of their school Covid vaccine mandates has been delayed, in large part because of low vaccination rates among children. In the nation’s capital, less than two-thirds of black students are fully vaccinated.

Many public and private colleges also mandate students be vaccinated against Covid, with some even requiring boosters. Summer camps and other programs also look to the CDC for guidance on their vaccine requirements.

Vaccine hesitancy was an issue before Covid even started. In 2019, there were measles outbreaks in California, and more recently, polio has re-emerged in New York. Skepticism might be furthered by the  perceived politicization of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the body of 15 voting members — selected by President Biden’s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services — that will be making the vaccine schedule recommendations. Growing skepticism could lead to more parents opting out of vaccines for diseases like measles and polio, which have been around for decades.

While 71 percent of adults between 25 and 49 — the parent age group — are vaccinated against Covid, making that choice for one’s child is much tougher. This is especially true now that we know the Covid vaccines do not protect against infection, only serious disease. 

While he supports vaccinating children, Dr. Parry thinks mandates “foster” more distrust. “What I’d like to see is that these recommendations are made without politics,” he says.

It may be too late for that. And after two years of learning losses inflicted on America’s children through Covid school closures and remote “learning,” driving more students out of the system for failure to comply with vaccine requirements would be a disaster.

The New York Sun

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