In recent months, with vaccines from at least three major manufacturers becoming widely available to the public, debates regarding whether schools should require vaccinations among students have grown. Due to the recent news that more than 100 colleges and universities have required student vaccinations, many individuals have suggested that vaccines be mandated for the 2021-22 school year. This question regarding how schools should handle vaccine requirements directly applies to Belmont Hill, where most of the faculty have received some form of the vaccine, yet the majority of students haven’t been vaccinated. However, with vaccines becoming increasingly available for younger age groups, as evidenced by the FDA’s recent approval for the use of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12-16, most students will likely have the opportunity to receive the vaccine this year.
This month, the Belmont Hill Health Office sent out a survey to the school sounding out student interest in an on-campus vaccine clinic. Furthermore, while everyone on campus would certainly like to be immune from contracting COVID-19, Belmont Hill’s policy on vaccine requirements for next school year should depend largely on how vaccinations appear to be going in the coming months. Due to the relative lack of information regarding how vaccinations affect minors, the full array of potential side effects for this age group is likely still unknown. Furthermore, if a significant development regarding the side effects of young individuals receiving a particular vaccine emerges and remains unresolved, Belmont Hill should certainly not jeopardize the health of their students by receiving an unsafe vaccine.
Interestingly, universities across the country have created a mandate that students, faculty, and staff alike will be required to be vaccinated to return to campus. Should universities be setting this standard already? In comparison to high schools and especially Belmont Hill, universities normally don’t have students under the age of 17. Currently, this would create an issue for K-12 schools as students under the age of 16 are not able to nor allowed to receive any vaccine at this time. If a vaccine is not approved for 15 year olds and under, would there be worth requiring students over this age group to receive the vaccine? Also, a clear factor in this decision would be about conscientious objectors to the vaccine. In many religions and communities, vaccinations are not allowed. Belmont Hill should not be requiring families to receive the vaccine if they have a clear and reasonable objection to it.
More than likely, families have already been receiving vaccinations and most eligible students by the end of the summer will be fully vaccinated. The decision about including Covid-19 Vaccination as a requirement to attend school might give Belmont Hill more leeway in Covid restrictions and allow for a more normal return in the 2021-2022 school year. Belmont Hill may not even have to independently request the vaccine if the Massachusetts government requires it for all school aged children under law as they did with the flu vaccine for this year.
Yet, if the vaccines continue to prove safe and unharmful to students as is most likely to be the case, Belmont Hill should require a vaccine at some point during the next school year in order to protect students and faculty alike. To help appease hesitant individuals regarding the safeness of the vaccine, however, perhaps delaying this requirement would prove beneficial for all members of the community. Nevertheless, once the public has generally accepted that the vaccine is fully safe for minors, Belmont Hill should face no opposition in requiring a vaccine to ensure the safety of the entire community.