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Washington health officials vote against requiring COVID vaccine for students

The state's Board of Health voted unanimously to not move forward with the petition to require the COVID vaccine for students.

TUMWATER, Wash. — The Washington State Board of Health (BOH) voted to accept an advisory group's recommendation on Wednesday and not add COVID -19 vaccinations to the list of required shots for K-12 students, at least not yet.

Earlier this year a state advisory board recommended against it by a 7-6 vote. 

Following an extensive discussion and comments from the public, the BOH mostly decided that, despite how safe it feels the COVID vaccine is for all eligible age groups, the repercussions of requiring it for kids were too great. 

Board member Dr. Bob Lutz said Wednesday during the meeting that in discussions with various school superintendents across the state, he learned there was real concern students would be kept from attending class. 

"They are very concerned about loss of students, parents taking their children out of school. Whether this is real or not, irrespective. That is a logistical concern that they have, and I think we have to honor that," Lutz said.

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State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah eventually made the motion to accept the advisory board's recommendation and not include the COVID-19 vaccine in the state's required vaccines for students.

The motion passed unanimously, but the board could revisit the requirement in the future. 

“We all are united and making sure that we're doing the right thing and being health-protective of all Washingtonians, and I think that's the key message that is so critical here," Shah said.

Regarding the pandemic, he said he hoped that the state would not "just move on, as we often do as Americans, to the next headline," but that the state and entire country takes a "transformational" approach. 

"Really think through what we have gone through, and the trauma that all of us have gone through. How it's impacted all of us, and really think about being transformational and really address those very issues," Shah explained.

Washington state requires 11 vaccinations for students to attend school including Chickenpox, Mumps, Polio, Hepatitis B and whooping cough.

According to the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, 36% of ages 5-11 have started the vaccination process while nearly 32% are fully vaccinated.

For the age group 12-15, 59% have received at least one shot while 55% are fully vaccinated and 39% have received a booster.

In the 16- and 17-year-old age group 67% have started the vaccination process while 62% are fully vaccinated and 43% have received a booster.

Vaccination rates in King County are a little higher. 52% of ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated while 76% of kids ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated. 

The state dropped its indoor masking mandate on March 12, with schools across the state also dropping mask requirements around the same time.

While cases have been on a steady decline across the state since the mandate was lifted, experts say that waning immunity and a persistent omicron BA.2 variant could fuel another wave in the ongoing pandemic. 

As of April 11, 74% of the state's eligible population is fully vaccinated and case counts have plateaued at levels similar to those seen last summer.



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