Key Maryland senators want mandatory student COVID-19 vaccinations

Maryland has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation.

The state ranks 12th in the nation for the percentage of its population fully vaccinated and seventh in the nation for the percentage of its population that has received a first dose.

But since the school year began and kids returned to classrooms, the highest rate of increase in COVID-19 cases in Maryland is among school children, prompting some key members of the Maryland Senate to call for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students 12 and older.

“Last Friday, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] had Maryland as having had the lowest new case rate in the entire country and that is definitely something worth celebrating,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson, chairman of the Senate Vaccinate Oversight Work Group.

CDC data shows about 64% of the state’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated and about 70% of the eligible population has received a first dose.

The state can boast that it is a national leader when it comes to the equitable distribution of the vaccine.

“We rank sixth in the nation for vaccinating the state’s share of the Black population and sixth in the nation for the Hispanic population,” Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said.

Concerned that just 62% of teenagers between 12 and 17 years old are fully vaccinated and that cases are rising among school children, several members of the Senate panel urged the Hogan administration to consider mandatory vaccines for eligible students.

“I’ve seen patients where there are parents that have gotten COVID-19 from their kids and so I’m concerned about COVID in our schools,” said Sen. Clarence K. Lam, D-Howard County, a physician who urged the Hogan administration to consider mandatory vaccinations for school children 12 and older.

“You have a tool that you can use … to require vaccination of students coming into our school, but it sounds as though you’re not reaching for this tool,” said Lam.

Although Schrader told the Senate panel the administration would look at the idea of mandatory vaccines, he made clear that Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration wants to leave mandatory vaccine decisions in the hands of the school districts.

“We really need to rely on the schools to help us with this. They are autonomous and we want to make sure we respect that autonomy,” Schrader said.

Members of the panel pointed out that the Hogan administration successfully mandated COVID-19 vaccinations among nursing home staff. The state health department reports that more than 86% of nursing home staff have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick County, added his voice to the call for mandatory vaccinations of school children over the age of 12.

“I think we have the authority to do that and I think if we want to break this thing we have to take more bold steps,” Young said.

The Hogan administration told the panel that even on masking, it’s trying to be careful and to allow the schools to take the lead in their individual jurisdictions.

With COVID-19 cases rising among school kids some panel members pressed their argument for mandatory vaccinations.

“What I’ve seen going on the past two months is the state Health Department and state Department of Education say the local school systems can require vaccinations,” said Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-George’s County.

“And, I’ve seen the local school systems who in turn say the state health department can require vaccinations. So, we have the adults pointing fingers at each other while the kids are suffering and the parents are suffering….you have the power to do it, I would encourage you to use your power.”

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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.

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