‘Choice between two harms:’ DC Council delays COVID-19 vaccination requirements for students

Families of D.C. students will not need to have their children vaccinated against the coronavirus by Jan. 3, 2023, or risk having their kids pulled out of school per the city’s “no shots, no school” policy.

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to delay enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for some students to the next school year.

At-large Council member Christina Henderson presented the proposal to the council on Tuesday, saying that delaying the enforcement would be in the “best interest” of D.C. students.

The vote was the latest in a back-and-forth between council members and city officials over how to approach the requirement. Few school districts in the U.S. require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and at a hearing on the city’s policy last month, city officials said the council had to decide the fate of the requirement.

Henderson introduced the legislation that called for students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but school leaders expressed concerns about the number of students who may not be allowed to attend classes because they are not up-to-date on vaccines.

At-large Council member Elissa Silverman referenced the 23,000 school-aged children who are not vaccinated, saying that will be about “one out of four of our public school students.”

Although she said she does not want to put a policy in place that’s going to keep kids from school, Silverman said, “we need to move the needle on increasing the vaccination rate” during the delayed implementation of the vaccine mandate, including setting up mobile clinics at schools to make the vaccine as accessible as possible.

Henderson said the noncompliant rate for D.C. Public Schools for the COVID-19 vaccine is 44%; it’s 23% for routine vaccinations.

“Students can still get their COVID-19 vaccinations in the meantime, and we would certainly encourage them to do so. But they will not be excluded from school over that,” Henderson said.

Ten members of the council voted yes to the declaration; Ward 2 Council member Brooke Pinto voted no; Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh voted present; Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray was absent.

Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen described the vote as having to make a “choice between two harms.”

He said weighing between having children vaccinated and having thousands of students not being in class was a “tough vote.”

Cheh expressed her ambivalence, voting present instead. “I can’t pick my poison here,” she said.

Pinto, meanwhile, said that the council should not extend the date of compliance.

We have already extended the date of compliance. We know that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and the most effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Pinto said.

Ward 8 Council member Trayon White said that he was happy to see that the council was “dialing back” on the vaccination requirement.

In a statement, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education said, “We have heard from many school leaders about the challenges of tracking enforcement for COVID-19 vaccinations. That is why at the beginning of the school year, the District adjusted the enforcement timeline of the Immunization Attendance Policy for the COVID-19 vaccine. We support the Council’s action to give our families and schools additional time to come into compliance.”

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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