Will school kids be forced to get a COVID vaccination to attend in-person school?

New Jersey already requires a number of vaccinations be given to public school children before they are allowed to attend classes, but it is doubtful a COVID vaccination will be added to that list for the coming school year.

Among the guests on last night's New Jersey 101.5 Town Hall: A Year with COVID was Richard Bozza, executive director at New Jersey Association of School Administrators. I asked him directly about the possibility of requiring public school students to have a COVID vaccine. Bozza said he believes it unlikely for a number of reasons.

The biggest factor is the vaccine has yet to be approved for use in children. Bozza also believes there will be significant pushback from parents. When the Legislature attempted to eliminate many of the exemptions parents uses to prevent their kids from getting vaccinated, an angry mob descended on the State House convincing lawmakers to abandon the attempt.

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As for teachers and staff members, Bozza said they were also unlikely to be required to be vaccinated in order to work. While it is permissible under New Jersey law, Bozza says there are privacy issues and potential hurdles in existing collective bargaining agreements that would dissuade school districts for attempting to mandate vaccines for school staff.

The issue of mandatory vaccinations, however, is not likely to go away. State Senator Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, is already on the record supporting mandatory COVID vaccines for children. He also still believes most exemptions should be eliminated and has talked about combining both into one bill.

There have been few studies released about the effects of the current vaccines on children. Both Pfizer and Moderna have trials underway on kids as young as 12, but with small sample sizes. The current vaccines are also being administered under "emergency use authorization" by the FDA and could be years away from formal approval for general use. It is unlikely there would be widespread support in the legislature for mandating what amounts to an experimental drug.

It is a different scenario for New Jersey's higher education institutions. Rutgers is now requiring all students be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall. They have been granted permission by the state to hold vaccination clinics on campus when vaccine becomes available. Rutgers is the first university or college in New Jersey to take this step, but they are not likely the last.

You can hear a full replay of our Town Hall: A Year with COVID here.

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