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For Now, Ky. Schools Won't Require Students To Get The COVID Vaccine

Ninth graders at Waggener High School in the classroom on the first day back since the beginning of the pandemic last March.
Ninth graders at Waggener High School in the classroom on the first day back since the beginning of the pandemic last March.

With the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be used in children ages 12 to 15, the number of school-aged kids eligible for the vaccination has dramatically increased. Most middle and high school students can now get the shot. But that doesn’t mean Kentucky schools will require students to get the vaccine anytime soon.

Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, will not require students to get the shot for the 2021-2022 school year, according to district spokesperson Renee Murphy.

“Since the vaccine is available under emergency use and not full FDA approval, it is not required,” Murphy wrote in an email to WFPL News.

The Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have been givenEmergency Use Authorization by the FDA but not official approval, which takes many months. The drugs have gone through three phases of clinical trials on tens of thousands of patients. That data have been reviewed by scientists and the drugs have been determined safe for use, especially given the public health emergency.

But there are still additional steps before the drugs gain full FDA approval. The FDA says the average time for approval is six months.

Even when the drugs do gain FDA approval, state education officials say it would take a change to state law or emergency action by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services for public schools to make vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for enrollment.

“[The Kentucky Department of Education] does not believe there is any current legal authority for any public school to require a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of enrollment and attendance,” department attorney Todd Allen said in an email.

Allen said he’s not aware of any pending moves by lawmakers or the health cabinet to require the vaccine.

A spokesperson for the health cabinet, Susan Dunlap, confirmed "there are no current plans for the COVID-19 vaccine to become a mandatory immunization for Kentucky’s school children/youth."

Meanwhile the Archdiocese of Louisville is “strongly encouraging but not requiring” students 12 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Archdiocese spokesperson Cecelia Price.

Some vaccinations are required by state law for students to enroll in schools, public or private. Those include vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella. However, state law allows families to opt out of vaccination “on religious grounds.”

While the CDC is recommending the Pfizer vaccine for people 12 and older, a national survey in April found less than a third of parents of 12 to 15-year-olds would get their child vaccinated as soon as it was available. A quarter of parents said they plan to wait and see how the vaccine is working, and about another quarter said they will definitely not get their child vaccinated. 18% said they plan to get their child vaccinated if their school requires it.

This story has been updated.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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