Md. senators urge mandatory vaccines for students before return to school

Concerned over rising COVID-19 cases in the state, key members of the Maryland Senate are raising the possibility of mandatory vaccines for students returning to classrooms and also urging that the state bring back mask mandates in public places.

Members of the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup conducted their first meeting Tuesday since June, since the delta variant began driving up cases in the state.

While Maryland’s statewide COVID-19 positivity rate was 0.54 on June 28, it has increased to 4.54 by Aug. 13.

“This rate of increase is steeper or sharper than what was seen from March to April (this year), as well as the increase from September of last year to January of this year,” said Tonya Webb, a COVID-19 data analyst reporting to the committee.

“Why doesn’t the state just say, ‘If you’re going to come back into school buildings, middle school and high school, you got to be vaccinated, period, end of the story?” asked Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who represents the 21st District, which includes Prince George’s County.

Testifying to the panel, Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said that the state health department doesn’t have the authority to mandate student vaccinations, but members of the workgroup insisted that it does.

Sen. Clarence Lam, who represents Baltimore and Howard counties and who is a physician, cited Maryland law that he said specifically gives the state health department the power to order student COVID-19 shots.

“It seems to fairly, clearly articulate that you have the authority to do this, and given that we are only a few weeks away, if not just a week or two … it seems like there’s no strategy here to get those students vaccinated,” Lam said.

Senators were shown data that indicates only about 50% of students eligible for vaccine, those 12 years and older, are fully vaccinated in Maryland.

More Coronavirus news

Senate President Bill Ferguson, of Baltimore, encouraged Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to consider mandatory vaccinations.

“I do fundamentally believe that there is a silent majority out there that is ready to see everybody get vaccinated,” Ferguson said.

It’s not just mandatory vaccinations for students and for other population groups in the state being advocated by the committee members, several also spoke in favor of bringing back mask mandates in Maryland.

“It’s just going to keep coming back. The only way we stop this is to get serious and shut it down, so I think masks and mandates, if we don’t get to that, it isn’t going to get shut down, and it’s just going to keep going,” said Sen. Ronald Young, District 3, of Frederick County.

Senators pointed to the rising case numbers of COVID-19 due to the delta variant in their call for a return to mask-wearing in indoor places.

“I know we wanted to move past this, but I’m strongly suggesting, and I see my colleagues are nodding their heads, is that we really need to reinvigorate the masking protocols,” said Sen. Mary Washington, District 43, Baltimore City.

Schrader expressed disappointment that employers in Maryland have not done more to order their employees to get vaccinated, and while he doubted any immediate state action ordering student vaccines, he promised to review the matter and look at other potential steps that can be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We are analyzing what our options are all the time,” Schrader said.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up