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Can New York require children get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend public schools?

May 12, 2021

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LIVERPOOL N.Y. — The FDA authorized the emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children 12-15 on Monday, and New York is looking to start vaccinating the age group starting Thursday.

With some school-aged children allowed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, it’ll be up to state leaders to decide whether to require it to attend public schools.

“To mandate the vaccine of course is an area that I’m uncomfortable in moving forward with,” says Sen. Peter Oberacker, who sits on both the health and education committees.

He believes if mandated, it’s taking parents’ rights and personal choice away.

Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, who represents much of the Syracuse area, feels the vaccine should be required for students who want to attend class in-person.

“I do believe in the long run they are good for everybody in our society,” he says.

An education attorney from Tully Rinckey, Maria Morse, says it’s very feasible the state could require school-aged children to receive the vaccine.

“Like the measles vaccine, you’re looking at protecting children from communicable diseases and protecting children as a whole outweighs the individual choice,” she says.

Other vaccines, like measles, are mandated in schools, but there is one potential roadblock for the COVID-19 vaccine – it has not been fully approved by the FDA yet.

With only emergency use authorization right now, there are limits.

“If we are actually mandating it for public school students, there seems to be no actual right to refuse it. I think that’s where the argument would come in,” Morse says.

A spokesperson for the state tells me they’ll use science and data to determine the safest path forward.

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