January 11, 2022 in the Bellingham Herald 

The Washington state Board of Health is considering a proposal to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all K-12 students, and some people are not happy about it.   The board has scheduled a virtual meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 12, to hear an update from a group tasked with recommending whether immunization against COVID-19 should be a requirement for K-12 students.

Department of Health staff will present an update from the Technical Advisory Group, which includes members from the Health Care Authority, Department of Children, Youth and Families, Department of Health, Washington Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics and a tribal representative.

In October, the board directed staff to start the process to convene a Technical Advisory Group to examine whether a COVID-19 vaccine should be considered for inclusion in K-12 vaccine requirements, board spokesperson Kelie Kahler said this week. The board approved the motion unanimously after Vice Chair Tom Pendergrass introduced the topic. Pendergrass is a professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, according to his state health board biography. “At this time, the Board is still working to finalize specific members for the TAG,” Kahler said.

The state health department and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which both have members in the Technical Advisory Group, referred comment to the health board. State law has given the board the power to determine vaccination requirements. According to an item on the health board’s agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, the board and the Washington State Department of Health convened a “interdisciplinary” technical advisory group to assess COVID vaccines against nine criteria.

The nine criteria include the effectiveness of the vaccine, the cost, demonstration of an “acceptable level” of side effects, and the likeliness of reduced transmission. The group has more meetings anticipated between January and March 2022 before making its recommendation to the health board. The board will then vote on the measure. The board is not taking action on the measure this week, according to the agenda. The state board has received more than 3,500 pages of public comment on the agenda item as of Jan. 10, the vast majority of which oppose the consideration of mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for students. The board closes written public comment at noon the Friday before each meeting.

Many organizations have encouraged members to comment on the potential policy, like Informed Choice Washington, One Washington, both of which have encouraged the public to buck the state vaccine mandate for public workers and educators, and the Pierce County Republican Party. The largest concerns among the those who sent in comments were that vaccines are “experimental drugs” that need more time to be fully approved and that the board would be stripping parents of their decision on whether to vaccinate children against the coronavirus.

Some people sent in statements of support, like a Spokane nurse who said COVID-19 vaccine mandates are the best hope we have to keep kids safe and in-person schooling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. government, Washington state and most medical associations have determined COVID-19 vaccines help prevent serious and fatal cases of the coronavirus and the risk of serious side effects associated with them is small. Many threatened to pull their children out of school if the board mandated COVID-19 vaccines.

“I will pull my children from the public school system before I will let you force me to give them an experimental gene therapy that won’t finish long term studies for several more years,” one Tacoma resident said. The few supportive comments urged adoption. “We believe that the duty of the government and legislature of Washington State, and of the State’s boards and agencies, is to preserve the health and safety of its population and that the Board of Health is in a prime and critical position to fulfill that duty,” a resident of the town of Yacolt in Clark County said.

The state already requires five vaccinations for students. Before enrolling a student in school, parents must show proof of up-to-date vaccination for Hepatitis B, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), polio, MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and chicken pox, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. There are religious, medical and philosophical exemptions.

Some groups also have started pushing for the board to update policies against emergency-use vaccinations. Co-founder and president of Brain Health & Healing Foundation, Xavier Figueroa, has submitted a petition on behalf of the coalition Informed Choice Washington that asks the board to prohibit any vaccination with an emergency use authorization that has not yet completed clinical trials. In August, the federal Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for those aged 18 and older. The Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are still under emergency use authorization. Full approval is granted when the FDA has finished conducting clinical trials in addition to the data collected for emergency use.

The board will also discuss the petition on Wednesday.