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Students now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines

What getting vaccinated means for school safety

Sam Rainville, News Editor
Originally published June 11, 2021

Students line up for COVID-19 vaccines (Finn Keenan)

Students line up for COVID-19 vaccines (Finn Keenan)

As COVID-19 vaccines in Wash. have opened up to younger age groups, more and more students are going to be able to become vaccinated. However, this brings up the question of whether or not Seattle Public Schools will require students to have the COVID-19 vaccine.

Seattle Public Schools’ current vaccine policy is that K-12 students must meet the immunization requirements for their grade, as outlined by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). According to Nurse Laurie Tirtanadi, there isn’t any current indication that the COVID-19 vaccines will be included in these requirements. 

The school district’s vaccine policy must defer to Wash. state law, meaning the district cannot choose whether or not students have to be vaccinated. At this point, Wash. has opened COVID-19 vaccines to people ages 12 and up, but has not made them a requirement for students to return to school. 

Regardless of overall vaccination status, students have returned to in-person school under a hybrid model.

According to Tirtanadi, this isn’t necessarily a problem for in-person classes to run safely. 

“If they [students] follow the health screening protocol daily and stay home when they are feeling unwell, plus follow the health and safety precautions at school, the risk is mitigated,” Tirtanadi said in an email. 

Additionally, Tirtanadi explained that the vaccines don’t guarantee 100% safety from COVID-19, and because the vaccine is not required it’s important to focus on the other ways to remain safe. 

“I would advocate for continuing these precautions: repeated hand washing throughout the day, social distancing, wearing a mask and to stay home from school if you feel unwell,” Tirtanadi said. 

One of the most important aspects to safety from the virus is herd immunity. Tirtanadi explained the frequently-heard term.

“Herd immunity occurs when enough people become immune to the disease to make it unlikely to spread,” Tirtanadi said. “As a result, over time the community is protected. The CDC estimates the population needs to be about 70% immune for herd immunity to occur. Immunity can occur either through vaccination or through natural disease.” 

Now that the various COVID-19 vaccines are approved for students 15 or younger sooner rather than later, herd immunity within Seattle schools could become more achievable, and students could potentially look forward to a more familiar school year. Tirtanadi expressed her hopes for the future as vaccines continue to roll out.

“The more students, teachers, staff and community members are vaccinated, the closer we are to herd immunity and subsequently a decreasing infection rate,” Tirtanadi said. “I am looking forward to a future where COVID-19 is but a memory!”

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Students now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines