Will a COVID-19 vaccine be mandated for schools?

Griego’s son Vinny poses with his bandage-covered arm after receiving a flu shot. Vaccines are important to Griego and her family, and vows to get the future vaccine for coronavirus once widely available. 

By Devin Muzzey / NM News Port 

A COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for widespread use sometime next year, and people like Albuquerque resident Michelle Griego understand the importance of vaccines.

“We vaccinated our kids since they were born,” Griego said. 

Vinny Griego, 10, and Bella Griego, 16, pose for their first day of virtual learning. All Albuquerque public schools have agreed to go completely online for the fall semester. (Devin Muzzey / NM News Port)

She’s not the only one.

With many public school districts in New Mexico still closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, state and health officials are considering whether to mandate a potential vaccine for students in order to resume in-person learning.

During a COVID-19 briefing in August, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that New Mexicans should expect “mandatory populations” to receive a vaccine and that school children are among those being considered. 

“The mandatory population that I think is going to be a significant debate in the country is going to be school-aged children,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor also mentioned healthcare workers, nursing home residents, first responders, educators and high risk populations among those for which a vaccine might be mandated. 

A 2003 state law grants the governor’s administration authority to “vaccinate persons to prevent infection by a threatening communicable disease” and to protect against the spread of that disease during a declared public health emergency.

Those who decline a vaccine for reasons of health, religion or conscience can be ordered to isolate and self-quarantine under the same law.

Still, when it comes to school-age kids, no policy on vaccinations has been set.

The Department of Health does not anticipate vaccinating children in the early phases of COVID-19 vaccine distribution because the most advanced clinical trials to date have focused on adults,” David Morgan, media manager for the New Mexico Department of Health, said. 

“No decision to vaccinate public school children for COVID-19 will be made until the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approves use of a vaccine on children based on the scientific evidence of safety and efficacy,” Morgan said.

John Sena, policy director at the New Mexico Public Education Department, said that while they will follow guidance of state health officials, they anticipate the possibility of some pushback from concerned parents. 

“It’s hard to tell right now, but students are currently required to get vaccines with some exceptions based on religious beliefs, etcetera,” Sena said. “We’re going to have to wait and see how parents react to that kind of forced decision.”

My thought has always been, ‘It’s better to take a shot now than to actually deal with any virus.’” 

– Michelle Griego

Even with favorable views, Griego is apprehensive about a future coronavirus vaccine if it is being rushed.

“I hope the vaccine is something that they take their time in making sure that it works and not something that they’re trying to hurry up and provide for the benefit of political reasons,” Greigo said. 

With a vaccine still unavailable, there remains a risk of students contracting the virus if they are receiving their education in-person.

A report from the CDC found that children ages 10 and older have been shown to transmit SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in school settings. 

According to state health officials, nine counties in New Mexico are currently ineligible to have schools reopen to hybrid-style learning. All of those counties are located in the southern part of the state. (Devin Muzzey / NM News Port)

As of Sept. 30, there have been 205 total school-related cases for COVID-19, with 61 of those cases being reported in students and the other 144 among staff members. 

Until a vaccine for the coronavirus becomes widely available, Griego said she doesn’t want her kids to resume in-person learning. 

“I really don’t feel comfortable sending them at all,” Griego said. “Especially now that I’m seeing an uptick in cases of kids that are going to school — whether it’s hybrid or in-person schooling 100 percent; they’re getting cases. So that’s pretty scary for me.”

Only two schools in the entire state are currently doing full, in-person learning. Both are located in Vaughn, a town of less than 400 people. 

Griego said that it’s been a crazy year for families with kids, but added that it won’t last forever and that the United States has a lot to learn from this pandemic, including protecting as many children as possible. 

“I am for kids being vaccinated because it would be a shame if they’re not and they start getting other kids sick,” Griego said.

Devin Muzzey is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @MuzzeyDevin or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.