Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated the age for which the Pfizer vaccine had been approved for emergency use by the FDA.
Getting educators and students vaccinated against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a crucial step in the return-to-normal for schools, according to many public health experts. But a lot of hurdles—and questions—remain regarding how and when this will happen.
Three vaccines have been approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The first is produced by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and the German company BioNTech, the second was developed by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the third by U.S. drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.
Currently, only the vaccine developed by Pfizer is authorized for use in children as young as 12.
Here, Education Week answers some frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and K-12 schools. For the latest news on COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens, check out our news tracker on the topic.
Can schools mandate the COVID-19 vaccines for students?
While states can mandate vaccines for children, and public schools require children to be inoculated against many other diseases in order to attend classes, that doesn’t mean COVID-19 vaccines will be required, at least not for the time being.
There is a host of legal, political, and ethical questions involved in setting a new requirement, especially as COVID-19 vaccines are administered under an emergency-use authorization, which has allowed health providers to administer shots more quickly as the Food and Drug Administration considers more permanent approval.
Requiring a vaccine for children that many parents are still unsure of can lead to significant pushback and ultimately undermine vaccination efforts. Some health officials, leery after past debates with anti-vaccine activists, believe providing incentives for voluntary shots may be a more effective way of encouraging broad acceptance.
Will the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory for teachers?
States have the legal power to require people to get vaccinated, per a 1905 Supreme Court ruling, Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If states don’t require teachers to get vaccinated, local school districts could make that decision.
The U.S. says that employers can require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine, with exemptions for workers with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs. However, because the coronavirus vaccines have so far only received emergency use authorization, individuals must have the option to accept or refuse it. That might complicate any sort of mandate until the vaccines receive full FDA authorization.
Can schools give COVID-19 vaccines?
Many schools are providing COVID-19 vaccines for their students as well as their broader communities. Some districts, such as Anchorage, have built out their own vaccination programs. Others have partnered with local hospitals to host clinics at their schools. Prior to the pandemic, schools often offered vaccine clinics for routine immunizations, so this is not necessarily a new role for schools.
When will kids get the COVID-19 vaccine?
It will still be a while for many younger children. Both Moderna and Pfizer have been testing their vaccines in children as young as 6 months since March, and some of the results from those trials are anticipated this fall.
Pfizer has said it expects to have data for children ages 5 to 11 in September and to ask the FDA for emergency approval for that age group. However, it will take additional time for the agency to review the data and make a decision.
Are people getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
Around 50 percent of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated so far.
Large shares of the public remain hesitant or opposed to getting vaccinated, including many parents, especially those with young children. Driving those concerns is often misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the new COVID-19 vaccines.
This presents a major hurdle to public health officials who say that schools can play an important role in combating vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
Will schools have to continue with mitigation strategies even with a vaccine?
Because it will still be a while before all students can get vaccinated, and because more transmissible strains of the coronavirus are spreading, federal agencies such as the CDC and groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that schools continue with some mitigation efforts like universal masking, regular COVID-19 testing, and improving school building ventilation.