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The Washington, D.C., Council voted Nov. 7 to rescind the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the nearly 50,000 students in the city’s public schools, ending one of the last COVID-19 vaccine mandates for public schoolchildren in the U.S.
The D.C. mandate, which required all students 12 and older in the district’s public schools to get the COVID-19 shot to attend school, sparked opposition when it passed in 2021. It was never enforced.
More than 40% of children over 12 in D.C. public and charter schools did not complete their two-dose series of the COVID-19 vaccine as of June, according to a September public health report to the council.
Council members repeatedly delayed enforcement of the mandate. So many parents opposed the shots, that officials students would not attend school rather than get vaccinated.
But critics of the COVID-19 vaccines called the decision a victory for school policy and common-sense parenting, saying the gene therapy shots are dangerous and unnecessary for schoolchildren who rarely get seriously ill from COVID-19.
Kim Mack Rosenberg, acting general counsel for Children’s Health Defense (CHD) and co-author of “The HPV Vaccine On Trial,” told The Defender the decision to end the mandate was “good news,” adding “It’s a mandate that should have never been passed so I’m very happy to see it repealed.”
“What we now know and have known for some time is that children appear to be the population least likely to contract COVID and have a serious case. But we are seeing very serious side effects in younger people from these vaccines, including myocarditis and pericarditis and neurological effects.”
Rosenberg said parents everywhere must be troubled and confused by media coverage of unusual deaths among young people and athletes from heart damage, and reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and insurance industry reports that the death rate among young people is up 20% percent in 2023, long after the pandemic was declared over.
“It certainly warrants further investigation as to why we have children dying,” she said, noting the record death rate for young people began to climb in 2021, after the introduction of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Rosenberg urged parents everywhere to continue to educate themselves on vaccine risks and work together with support groups like CHD and its chapters in every state and around the world.
When facing school boards, public health officials and other authorities, “Parents need to be aware, need to ask tough questions and not accept the marketing answer, ‘It’s safe and effective,’” she said.
“That’s marketing, not science.”
Even without a mandate, it’s important families have informed consent
The requirement that all D.C. children ages 12 and older must receive the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine to attend school was first announced by the state superintendent of education on July 19, 2022.
Students in D.C. public schools and charter schools were already required to receive vaccines for diphtheria, polio, tetanus, rubella, measles and mumps. But in 2021, the D.C. Council added the COVID-19 vaccine to the required schedule for school students inthe hope of stopping the virus from spreading in schools.
But thousands of families, facing what would be one of the strictest COVID-19 vaccine policies in the nation, ignored the deadlines.
With resistance from the city’s families, especially Black families, the state superintendent in August 2020 delayed compliance until January 2023, then delayed the mandate again, saying it would not enforce it until the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
In June, Thomas Farley of DC Health warned the council that what he called misinformation among families could undermine vaccination efforts.
“We believe that parents’ resistance would make it very difficult to enforce a mandate for COVID-19 vaccine at this time, especially while COVID-19 infection rates are very low,” Farley testified to the council.
Some opponents, citing a report from the council’s Office of Racial Equity, said it would be racially discriminatory to bar a disproportionate number of black students from school if they were not vaccinated.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and at-large council member Christina Henderson, two sponsors of the original legislation that enacted the vaccine mandate, reversed course and introduced the new bill on April 27. After a public hearing in June and a Sept. 19 report, the amendment passed on Nov. 7 removing the COVID-19 shot from the vaccine schedule for school children.
Council members said the harm of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate now exceeds the benefit and cited CDC guidance that does not recommend a requirement.
Yet even as they voted to remove the mandate, council members still urged children 12 and over in the city’s schools to follow CDC guidelines and get the COVID-19 vaccine to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
Mendelson, in the Sept. 19 report, blamed what he called misinformation for causing widespread vaccine hesitancy among city families, especially among Black students who “between the ages of 5 and 17 experience persistent gaps in COVID-19 vaccination when compared to their white peers in the same age groups.”
“Vaccines are safe,” he wrote. “It is a fact that vaccines keep communities safe by strengthening a person’s natural defense against diseases and reducing the likelihood that the disease could spread to others. … Unfortunately, widespread misinformation has caused many of our students’ families to distrust the COVID-19 vaccine or believe that infection with this virus is trivial.”
Mendelson also wrote that it appeared the mandate was no longer needed. “What seemed prudent only months after the vaccine became available, and in the midst of the Delta-variant surge, is no longer considered to be best practice,” he wrote in the report.
Acting on parental concerns, CHD was instrumental in a lawsuit, filed on behalf of four concerned parents in D.C., that overturned the “D.C. Minor Consent Act.”
The act allowed children as young as 11 to get any vaccine including the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, without parental consent.
It is vital for parents and families everywhere to realize, Rosenberg said, that, “Even if there is not a mandate in place it’s very important that families have the right to choose what medical interventions their children receive.”