On April 13, the Washington State Board of Health (SBOH) voted not to include the COVID-19 vaccine in schools’ immunization requirements. Since 1979, Washington state law has required school children to receive certain vaccines before attending school or day care. The SBOH uses a careful review process before deciding which vaccines are required. Currently vaccines against hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox (varicella) are required for all students. 

The Board worked with immunization stakeholders from public health, schools, childcare, medicine, epidemiology, child advocacy, medical ethics, and families to develop standards for decisions on vaccine mandates. In general, the Board concluded that vaccine requirements for schoolchildren are justified if not having them: 

  • Compromises the state’s obligation to protect public health and safety 
  • Means individual decisions jeopardize others’ health  
  • Threatens the state’s economic interests due to the costs of care for vaccine-preventable illness, related disability, or death, and of managing vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks 
  • Compromises the state’s duty to educate children  

The Board convened a COVID-19 immunization requirement Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of public health and education experts in late 2021 who closely considered a possible new vaccine requirement. The group held open meetings where they discussed and voted on whether COVID-19 vaccines meet nine criteria, leading up to the vote on April 13 regarding an overall recommendation to the Board of Health. 

The nine criteria are: 

  • The immunization is recommended by the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices 
  • It is effective as measured by health data, ideally Washington state data 
  • It is cost effective for society 
  • It is safe and has an acceptable level of side effects 
  • It prevents disease(s) that causes significant death and illness in the population, or a subpopulation 
  • It reduces the risk of person-to-person transmission 
  • It is acceptable to the medical community and the public 
  • The administrative burdens of delivery and tracking of vaccine are reasonable 
  • The burden of getting the vaccine is reasonable for families 

Despite the vote not to include COVID-19 vaccines as an immunization requirement for schoolchildren at this time, both DOH and SBOH support COVID-19 vaccines as safe, effective, and valuable in protecting our communities. The CDC recommends children and teens ages 5 and up receive their COVID-19 vaccination. 

To read DOH’s statement regarding the SBOH’s vote, click here

To view a chart outlining the current required vaccinations for schoolchildren, click here. 

For more information regarding youth vaccination, visit DOH’s Vaccinating Youth page or the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens page. 

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