Opinion: Should Student Vaccinations be Mandated?

On October 1, California announced its plans to become the first state in the US to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students ages 12 and up. On October 15, New York City’s mayoral candidate Eric Adams said that if he wins the election, he will mandate COVID-19 vaccines for New York City public school students. This has parents and students worried that they will be forced to take a vaccine they don’t feel comfortable taking. Many are left wondering if the government is going too far, taking away their rights and taking away a parent’s authority and choice about what they want for their child. Students and their parents should be given a choice of whether or not they should be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is relatively new and people believe that it is too soon to know if there are any long-term effects and risks that can occur from receiving it. This is making NYC residents in our community apprehensive about receiving it themselves, let alone their children. There are many common side-effects with the COVID-19 vaccine as well as potential serious risks such as the possible connection to a heart condition called myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle due to some infection or trigger. According to the CDC, there have been cases reported of myocarditis after the administration of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer or Moderna, especially in male adolescents.

These documented cases occurred mostly after the second dose and were diagnosed a few days after the vaccination was given. This is a valid concern and parents should be able to discuss this matter with their pediatrician to determine what is best for their child, not the government making that decision for them. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, FDA, and the CDC can make recommendations, but parents should have the final say on what is best for their children and their family.

The risk of serious infection and death when a student is infected with the COVID-19 virus is little to none compared to the percentage of serious rates in adults. Children infected with COVID-19 would most likely be asymptomatic or have mild non-threatening symptoms such as a headache or a sore throat. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple states reported 0.1%-2.0% of their hospitalizations were children with a COVID-19 case and 0.0%-0.25% of children died of the virus. Thus, the hospitalization and death rate in children is uncommon. This demonstrates that although COVID can affect children, the severity of these cases are lower. The flu can also cause serious infection and death in children. According to the CDC, in the 2019-2020 season, 199 deaths in children were reported to the CDC but they believe that approximately 434 deaths were related to the flu. However, the flu shot has not been mandated in schools and there is no plan to do so.

Others might say that mandating the COVID-19 vaccine is no different than the other mandated vaccines that children must take before entering schools, such as vaccines for measles, mumps, polio, pertussis, smallpox, and chickenpox. However, the COVID-19 vaccine is still relatively new and an ultimatum shouldn’t be given to these families. Children should not be penalized for not being able to go to school and not having in-school instruction while the parents are still trying to determine what is best for their children.

Forcing families to give their children the two-dose vaccine or risk taking them out of in-person learning is not a good idea. Taking kids out of school could prove to be more detrimental to the social and emotional well-being of the student than COVID-19. Students have already lost so much in the past two years and taking away their chance for better education and social life could be just as dangerous and unhealthy. It is so important to keep the best interests of the students and children first and making these premature demands could end up doing more harm than good. 

Parents and students should have the right to choose when and if their child will get the COVID-19 vaccine. Having that decision taken away if the state decides to mandate the vaccine is unjust and pernicious when it comes to a student’s education, which could result in stopping them from attending in-person instruction. Parents have a reasonable concern about the vaccine because it is still fairly new and there haven’t been any long-term studies that can show if there are any serious side effects down the line. If we fail to listen to the concern of these parents and push the vaccines before they are ready, we risk alienating this perspective.  In the end, it’s the students that will suffer the long-term consequences.