Will New York require COVID vaccines for students? The state’s pediatricians hope so.

The New York chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics “unequivocally support” mandating COVID vaccines for students once the shot is fully federally approved for those younger than 16.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an “emergency use authorization” of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12-15 — meaning those children can receive that vaccine, but it has not yet received full approval from federal authorities. Pfizer has asked the FDA to approve its vaccine for children ages 5-11, with a decision expected around Halloween, according to reports.

Though Pfizer shots have been fully approved for people ages 16 and older, the pediatricians believe it’s too difficult to mandate one group of students first since they share a building with younger peers.

“It is imperative that we take steps now to protect as many children as we can against COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Warren Seigel, chair of the New York State American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement on Tuesday. “As the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and FDA continue to test and approve immunization for younger children, we have an obligation to get the vaccine to those children to protect them from infection and severe illness.”

The medical association, which represents about 5,000 pediatricians, pediatric sub-specialists and pediatric surgical specialists across the state, also opposes religious or philosophical exemptions for such a vaccine requirement. The larger American Academy of Pediatrics has not yet taken a position on requiring shots of students.

For now, until the shots are fully approved by the federal government, the New York-based group is recommending that eligible children get vaccinated.

Requiring the COVID vaccine of students would not be unprecedented. The state of California is planning for such a requirement once a vaccine is fully approved for children, though there is a big caveat: parents can opt their children out based on their “personal beliefs.” But what that means hasn’t been clearly defined.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said last month she’s “willing to consider anything” when asked if she would mandate COVID vaccines for children.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has not voiced support for a student mandate, saying last month on WNYC “it’s not on the table yet,” while pointing to a rising number of children ages 12-17 getting their shots as the city ramped up efforts to encourage vaccinations.

“I don’t want to take the chance of a kid or a family who is not quite there yet of being excluded from being in school,” he said.

Education department officials have not disclosed the percentage of vaccinated public school children, but they did say that as of last week, 74% of all children ages 12-17 residing in the five boroughs had received at least one dose.

New York City students are already required to get multiple vaccines in order to attend school, including diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, poliovirus, measles-mumps-rubella, varicella, Hepatitis B, the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) booster and meningococcal conjugate. All children younger than 5 enrolled in child care or pre-K must get the flu vaccine.

Still, COVID vaccine requirements for students are sure to set off protests from parents who oppose the shots for various reasons.

Amid a 2019 measles outbreak in Brooklyn and Rockland County, state lawmakers passed a bill that would remove religious reasons as an exemption for students to take required vaccines. In response, parents filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law, but a state judge upheld it, stating it was in the state’s interest to protect against the disease, lohud.com reported at the time.

A vaccine requirement went into effect last week for New York City public schools staffers, with those refusing to get vaccinated forced to go on unpaid leave. As a result of the mandate, roughly 95% of education department employees had at least one dose as of last week, and officials said employees are continuing to get their jabs. The mandate has faced multiple legal challenges, which have failed so far in court.

This article was originally posted on Will New York require COVID vaccines for students? The state’s pediatricians hope so.