(Trends Wide) — As children return for a new school year and COVID-19 cases rise among younger age groups, vaccination mandates in schools may become the only way forward, a vaccine expert said.
“So far, we haven’t seen many covid vaccine mandates, not even for teens,” vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez, told Trends Wide’s Ana Cabrera. . “It will have to happen if we want the children to finish the school year.”
New data released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that cases have increased “exponentially” among children, and the number of weekly cases shows a 240% increase from the week of July 22-29, when the group counted 71,726 cases.
Much of the country is feeling the impacts of the spread of Covid-19. Hospitals are overwhelmed by a surge in patients, who depend on reinforcements to deal with the influx, and some are just barely managing.
“The only reason we keep this lifeboat together is that I have a federal disaster medical assistance team here, 14 people who have just been heroes to us. And, unfortunately, their deployment ended on Friday,” said the Dr. William Melahn, medical director of St. Claire Health Care in Kentucky, on Monday to Trends Wide’s Kate Bolduan. “I am going to lose 14 health professionals and I literally have no idea what we are going to do on Friday.”
Vaccines are the strongest form of protection against the virus, but only Americans 12 and older are eligible. But vaccine studies for younger children are underway, and the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said that younger children will be vaccinated at End of the year.
“We are waiting for the companies to submit the data to the FDA, we anticipate that will happen in the fall,” he said on NBC’s Today Show.
Until vaccines are available to younger children, health agencies have promoted the use of masks, testing, ventilation, and distance to keep children safe. And those measures will likely have to be maintained until there is a combination of high vaccination rates and low rates of disease spread, Walensky said.
Local leaders disagreeing with mandates
There has already been tension in several states over mandates for both vaccines and the use of masks.
Despite restrictions from Texas Governor Greg Abbott on who can require vaccinations, the San Antonio Independent School District has required district employees to be vaccinated against the virus.
And, on Monday, state attorney general Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the district and Superintendent Pedro Martinez for the mandate.
“The decision to openly violate state law and dedicate district resources to defending the illegal actions of Superintendent Martinez is irresponsible,” Paxton said in a news release. “But if school districts decide to use their limited funds to try to get away with breaking the law, my office will oppose them and defend the rule of law in Texas.”
In the wake of President Joe Biden’s announcement that companies with more than 100 employees should require their workforce to be vaccinated or tested regularly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said Florida cities and counties that require employees to get the covid-19 vaccine will face fines of $ 5,000.
The mayor of Orange County, Florida, said that while the consequences could be costly, the county will not overlook the well-being of its community.
“It could be a lot of money. There’s no question about it,” Mayor Jerry Demings said at a news conference in reference to the fines. “At the end of the day, our objective is to protect the great collective of people in our community, to keep them safe. That is the fundamental role of the government.”
In Iowa, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday that will, for now, allow state school districts to require masks in classrooms.
In response, Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed a law in May prohibiting local entities and school districts from issuing their own mask mandates, said the state would appeal.
“Today, a federal judge unilaterally struck down a state law, ignored the decision of our elected legislature, and removed the ability of parents to decide what is best for their children,” Reynolds said.
Debate over booster doses
There is also a debate about the need and timing of booster doses of the vaccine.
The Biden administration had announced plans to launch a third dose next week, pending FDA approval, but some experts say it is not needed yet.
On Monday, an international group of vaccine scientists, including some from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization, published an article in The Lancet which said that the current evidence does not seem to support the need for booster shots for people in general for now.
The document’s authors include two senior FDA vaccine leaders, Dr. Philip Krause and Marion Gruber, who will step down in October and November, the FDA announced late last month.
Hotez, for his part, said he has seen evidence that the boosters can “keep people out of the hospital, prevent prolonged COVID … and could restore the interruption of asymptomatic transmissions.”
“Based on the data from Israel, I am strongly in favor of booster vaccines,” Hotez said.
The FDA is scheduled to discuss the booster vaccines on Friday, although the agency has been late in providing data to the agency’s panel of external vaccine experts, two sources told Trends Wide.
An FDA spokesperson told Trends Wide that committee members will receive materials prior to the meeting.
“Our vaccines team is working 24 hours a day on many priorities, including preparing for the meeting on Friday,” said Stephanie Caccomo.
Trends Wide’s Jen Christensen, Virginia Langmaid, Raja Razek, Amir Vera, Lauren Clabby Moore, Leyla Santiago, Amy Simonson, and Laine Mackey contributed to this report.