MCPS needs to mandate the 12-18 vaccine

More stories from Maeve Sanford-Kelly

The Covid vaccine has had full FDA approval since August and emergency approval for nearly a year. Yet, eligible students are not required to be vaccinated even though the vaccine is proven to mitigate the spread of Covid. It’s time for the Maryland Board of Education to mandate the Covid vaccine for older students.

The state already mandates seven other vaccines (fifteen doses total) including polio, hepatitis B and chickenpox. These vaccines are mandated in order to mitigate the spread of illness and to protect students. Introducing mandates has successfully prevented – and nearly ended in some cases – the spread of these diseases. Mandating the Covid vaccine could do the same.

Troublingly, some of the lowest levels of vaccination are among 12-18 year olds. Young people are more likely to believe they’re invincible.

The significant uptick in youth hospitalizations and deaths as a result of the Delta variant has proven that we aren’t.

Unvaccinated students’ increased likelihood to catch the virus and bring it into their community also puts their peers at risk. It is not reasonable to harm the vast majority for a small minority of students at a significant risk of being superspreaders within their schools.

Although I believe the vaccine newly available for students 5-11 is completely safe and should be widely accessed, there is some merit to waiting for full FDA approval before putting a vaccine requirement into state law. I have no such hesitancy for the FDA-approved adult dosage given to older students.

MCPS had mandated vaccines for eligible winter and spring athletes as well as all MCPS staff. Many leaders in the County are eager to ensure all students are vaccinated; however, vaccine mandates have always been enacted in the past by the state BOE. Implementing a mandate via the state has the added benefit of impacting areas outside of Montgomery County that do not have the record-high vaccination rate that we have.

Maryland would not be the first state in the country to mandate vaccines. In October, the State of California announced that they will be mandating vaccines for all students in the state’s public school system. Every public school student in California above the age of 12 will be vaccinated and the state as a whole will be safer for it. That’s six million children who will be able to learn without additional Covid anxiety.

Maryland students are eager to be at school and thrilled to be back in the classroom. The only way to ensure schools stay open is to mitigate the spread of Covid. The best way to do that is to mandate that all students are required to get vaccinated. The State must act.