Will New Jersey make a COVID-19 vaccination mandatory to attend school? It's already being discussed.

The head of the state Senate Health Committee is voicing support for including a COVID-19 vaccine on the list of required vaccines for kids to attend school.

State Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, tells NJ.com the discussions are preliminary but, "I believe it ought to be included in that list of vaccines that are required for children." Vitale also supports efforts to eliminate many of the exemptions parents use to prevent their kids from getting vaccinated, and may try to incorporate both into one bill.

Efforts to eliminate those exemptions failed last year after an angry mob of parents descended on the Statehouse. New York state lawmakers are also considering making the COVID vaccine mandatory for school attendance.

Any efforts to make a COVID vaccination mandatory would have to wait until federal regulators approved its use for children. None of the current data being reviewed by the FDA has involved children. Vitale says without that data, there is no decision at this time, but "if the science supports its efficacy," there would be little debate about including it as a requirement.

The Pfizer vaccine has been given to a small group of child volunteers. A hundred children as young as 12 received the shot at a Cincinnati hospital last October. At the time, CNN reported few has experienced any serious side effects.

Moderna, likely to have its COVID vaccine approved by the FDA soon, has announced a trial involving 3,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17. A spokeswoman, however, told the New York Times they were not yet recruiting volunteers and it is not clear where the trial will be conducted.

Gov. Phil Murphy has expressed hope that 70% of New Jersey adults would voluntarily get inoculated. A majority of state residents, however, continue to express concerns over the safety of any vaccine putting that 70% goal very much in doubt. Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, is sponsoring a bill that would prevent the state from making the vaccine mandatory for anybody. Scharfenberger says he is not anti-vaccine, but anti-mandate, and sponsored the bill in response to constituent complaints. The Republican lawmaker's bill is not likely to get a hearing.

The debate on a mandatory vaccination order for children comes just as the FDA is poised to approve emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for millions of Americans. State health officials say they could take delivery of the first vaccine shipment as early as Monday, with the first shots given out as early next week. How many doses New Jersey will get in the first shipment remains unclear. It is hoped we will receive as many as 460,000 doses but it could be as few as 76,000. Six hospitals were preparing earlier this month to receive part of the vaccine supply. Each has the deep cold storage needed to preserve the drug.

An adequate supply of an effective vaccine seems to be the best hope we have of returning to some form of normalcy. Murphy has been begging residents to continue to mask up, remain socially distant and avoid large gatherings over the holidays. Murphy showed projections this week that portrayed what could happen if those guidelines are not followed, and it forecast as many as 8,500 hospitalizations by mid-January. That also prompted a new round of threats from the governor that if he seems lax compliance, there would be a new round of restrictions.

For a third day, New Jersey's rate of transmission for COVID-19 has moved upward. Now at 1.10. That is a key number to watch for how rapidly the virus is spreading. For example: at 1.10, for every 100 people infected, they infect 110 more. The number increase exponentially. Hospitalizations have also increased above 3,500, with 630 needing critical care. The state reported another 91 deaths.

More N.J. Top News:

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Let's help OC Sheriff's Detective and family as he battles ALS