As North Carolina schools reopen, public health leaders will face pressure to require the COVID-19 vaccine. (Image via Shutterstock) NC Schools and Coronavirus
As North Carolina schools reopen, public health leaders will face pressure to require the COVID-19 vaccine. (Image via Shutterstock)

If and when a COVID-19 vaccine is cleared for younger children, North Carolina’s schools should add it to the list of required immunizations.

Last week, I was one of thousands of parents in North Carolina who dropped off a kindergartener at one of our state’s public schools. 

Because the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to plague us, orientation was held on the steps outside. 

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It’s August in North Carolina, so it was a sweaty business.  The principal, donning a full-body costume of the school’s bulldog mascot, greeted the children with high-fives.

“Parents, we WILL take care of your children,” he told us later after shedding the costume.

In other words, we know you’re nervous. But you gotta go. Kindergarten drop-off is already wrapped up in emotions. Doing it during a pandemic takes it to another level. 

We ask a lot of our schools, the teachers, the support staff, bus drivers. We ask that they ready our children for a big, bold changing world. We ask that they work long days (and, occasionally, long nights). 

But at the bottom of our “ask” for schools is that they take care of our children. That they’re going to keep our children safe.

Never in my lifetime has that “ask” been bigger than it is these days.

This Isn’t Political

On Sunday morning, the nation’s foremost immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that if and when a COVID vaccine is cleared for children younger than 12 , a vaccine mandate in our public schools is a “good idea.”

Vaccine mandates are being considered all over these days. The Associated Press reported last week that vaccination will be required of our military. Last week, President Biden pleaded with private employers to do the same. It is inevitable that a mandate for schoolchildren will be discussed. 

Fauci acknowledged the idea will anger some. But if medical research finds the vaccine to be safe and effective the pros will far outstrip the cons. 

“This is not something new,” Fauci added Sunday. “We have mandates in many places in schools, particularly public schools, that if in fact you want a child to come in — we’ve done this for decades and decades requiring (vaccines for) polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis,” he said. “So this would not be something new, requiring vaccinations for children to come to school.”

And he’s right. In North Carolina, parents are required by state law to give proof of numerous immunizations — including polio, measles, mumps, and rubella — within the first 30 days of school. 

If a suitable COVID-19 vaccine is found for children younger than 12, and there is every reason to believe one will be cleared by year’s end, North Carolina’s Public Health Commission should add it to the list. 

No question. Anything else is political, and politics has no place in this.

The commission — which is appointed by the NC Medical Society and Gov. Roy Cooper — considered a vaccine mandate in schools this month, but opted not to at this time. But with dozens of North Carolina school systems rejecting mask requirements in the midst of a resurgent COVID-19, they will be under mounting pressure this fall to act. 

They should heed that pressure. 

To this point, the vaccines cleared in the U.S. have been extraordinarily effective. Policymakers on both the right and the left have called on North Carolinians to get their shot. For the most part, vaccines keep folks out of the hospital. They keep folks safe. The NC Department of Health and Human Services found this year that unvaccinated people were 15 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the unvaccinated. 

And North Carolina’s intensive care units are filling up these days with the unvaccinated, not the vaccinated. The vaccine might not always prevent us from catching the virus, but it does make it highly unlikely the virus would land us in the hospital.

Some folks will say this is a complex issue. The science is complex. The reality is not. Vaccines make us safer.

And that above all is what we want when we send our children off to school.