Reykdal: Board of Health ‘landed in right place’ by not mandating COVID vaccine for students

Apr 14, 2022, 10:45 AM
COVID vaccine students...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

In early January, Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal expressed his belief that it was likely the state Board of Health would eventually require the COVID-19 vaccine for students. Four months later, though, the board unanimously voted not to add the vaccine to the list of what’s required for K-12 children in schools. So, what happened between then and now?

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Speaking to KIRO Newsradio’s Gee & Ursula Show, Reykdal pointed to an evolving landscape for both students and parents.

“I thought back in the summer when delta was really spiking and then omicron, (requiring the vaccine) was where they were headed — I really thought they believed that was the right thing to do,” he recalled. “But that’s not where they landed, and I believe it’s because there’s more to it than just, ‘is it a good idea?'”

“It’s a safe vaccine, it’s effective, but if 30 or 40% of families choose to opt out of it or take an exemption to it, does it have an effect?” he continued. “If we’re spending millions of dollars to try to enforce it, is it going to have an effect, or if it causes tens of thousands of more students to be pulled out of school?”

Ultimately, he believes that “the Board of Health landed in the right place” given those mitigating factors, noting how just 36% of 5 to 11 year-olds in Washington are currently vaccinated, leading to questions over how a school mandate might be received had it been implemented.

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“They clearly saw something here that said this isn’t like the other vaccines,” he described. “Maybe it’s the national mood, maybe it’s politicization of this, maybe it’s concern about it not being out there for very long, but they clearly saw something here and said, ‘wait a second, this is not something people are embracing at the highest levels like they do the current vaccine requirements.'”

As it stands right now, students must be vaccinated against Hepatitis-B, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, with exceptions carved out for those who have approved religious or health reasons. In 2019, the state Legislature passed a bill removing the exemption for personal and philosophical reasons for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

That’s a list Reykdal says is unlikely to change anytime soon, and that with mask mandates having lifted too, “our next school year is going to look remarkably like it did pre-pandemic.”

You can listen to the full interview with Reykdal here: 

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Reykdal: Board of Health ‘landed in right place’ by not mandating COVID vaccine for students