Should COVID-19 vaccinations be added to the list of vaccines required for Utah students to attend school? With kids as young as 12 eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and testing being done on even younger kids, this public health question is hard to ignore.
Vaccinations that are already required
Right now in order to register a child for kindergarten in Utah, parents must show that the child has received the following vaccinations: five DTP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), four polio, two MMR, three hepatitis B, two hepatitis A and two varicella (also known as chickenpox).
Then in seventh grade, each child must receive one more DTP and one meningocele. Is there any chance that the list could be lengthened to include the COVID-19 vaccine?
Rich Lakin is the Immunization Program Manager at the Utah Department of Health and he reported they haven’t given COVID-19 vaccinations much thought yet.
“We’ve had some discussions with partners, but we really haven’t thought much about including that right now. It just got approved for twelve and above. Maybe down the road, it may be approved for six months up to eleven. We haven’t really gone anywhere about making it a requirement for school entry yet,” Lakin said.
Making COVID-19 vaccinations required for Utah students process
It’s quite a process to add a new vaccine to the list of those required for entry to school. Lakin explained that “it begins with conversations, either within the immunization program or the executive director of the Utah Health Department’s office.”
“Sometimes the conversation begins with private physicians contacting the Health Department and asking them to consider adding the vaccine to the list.”
If these conversations are fruitful, they are brought before the Utah Vaccine Advisory Committee, which meets three times a year. If that committee decides the vaccine should be considered as one required for students, the executive director takes it to the Health and Human Services Committee of the Utah State Legislature, and there is public input.
It comes down to a risk vs. reward analysis according to Lakin. “Polio was an easy one to put on the list. It was a childhood disease. The risk of the disease outweighed the risk of the vaccine by far,” Lakin said.
“With COVID-19 we are seeing children being hospitalized, we are seeing children become very sick. We are seeing long-term effects starting to happen with children. If at some point the disease outweighs the risks of the vaccine, that’s one of the things that we consider.”
So, will the COVID-19 vaccine ever be added to the list of required vaccinations for Utah students?
“In other states, it might occur quicker,” Lakin said. “Utah is pretty conservative. I would expect some states would move ahead of us. We don’t want to put another requirement on parents for school entry.” If Utah ever does require the vaccine, it’s possible “we may require it for 7th-grade entry only and not for the younger age group,” Lakin said.