Bills Would Require Vaccine for Students

Legislation would add COVID-19 to list

Two bills have been introduced in the state Legislature — one in the Assembly, the other in the Senate — that would require schoolchildren to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Both bills would add vaccination against COVID-19 to the list of state-mandated inoculations that students must have to attend public or private schools in the state.

Students through grade 12 currently must be vaccinated against diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis, polio, tetanus and varicella (chickenpox).

In Dutchess and Putnam, about 20 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have been vaccinated against COVID-19, along with about 65 percent of those 12 to 17. Both figures are lower than the state rate, which is 23 percent for the younger children and 71 percent for the older ones.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 in May and for those 5 to 11 years old last month. Vaccines were fully approved for people 16 and older in August.

The Assembly bill, which was introduced in October by Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat from the Bronx, would add COVID to students’ vaccine requirements 30 days after full FDA approval. The Senate bill, introduced in August by Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, would apply to children and teens from 2 to 18 years old.

In 2019, Dinowitz and Hoylman sponsored legislation that, after being enacted by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, invalidated 26,000 religious exemptions from vaccination requirements across New York state, including about 75 in the Highlands, following measles outbreaks.

At the time, most local families who had claimed religious exemptions chose to have their children immunized, rather than leaving the public schools, superintendents in the Beacon, Haldane and Garrison districts said.

The New York state branch of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in October that it “unequivocally supports the requirement that all children attending school, day care and after-school activities be immunized” for COVID-19, and that religious exemptions should not be allowed.

However, Assembly Member Jonathan Jacobson, a Democrat whose district includes Beacon, doesn’t see it happening before the 2022-23 school year begins next September. “It’s a little early to make a decision,” he said this week.

With variants still emerging, Jacobson said he’d “like to see where we’re at a little further into winter. While it’s possible there will be a vote at the end of the session, I don’t see the support for it now.”

Legislators return to Albany on Jan. 5 and the session is scheduled to run through June 2.

Without mandatory vaccinations in the fall, it’s also too early to say if masks will be required inside school buildings in the fall for the third straight year, Beacon Superintendent Matt Landahl said on Wednesday (Dec. 15). “There need to be some data-driven standards around when masks are worn or not,” he said.

The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents last month wrote Gov. Kathy Hochul asking for “clear and very specific metrics, a plan for removing masks” at some point. “Everyone’s safety is most important, but schools have shown our systems are good at keeping people safe by following the science,” the council said.

Without a plan, “it starts to feel endless,” Landahl said.

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