On February 16, 2022

Vermont vaccine advisory group quiet on Covid-19 mandates in schools

By Peter D’Auria/VTDigger

On Tuesday morning, Feb. 8, members of the Vermont Immunization Advisory Council, a group of state officials that makes recommendations about vaccine requirements for Vermont schoolchildren, met for the first time in nearly two years.

About 25 minutes later, the meeting was over, with the council declining to take up a question that has sparked controversy across the country: Should Covid-19 vaccines be required for schoolchildren?

“Clearly, this is a topic that should be discussed,” said Mark Levine, the Vermont commissioner of health and a council member, said at the meeting. “No question about it.”

But members showed little appetite for that discussion. Asked for their thoughts Tuesday, neither the council’s members nor members of the public weighed in on the pros or cons of mandating the shot.

“Quiet group,” quipped Secretary of Education Dan French, the newly elected chair of the council.

That hesitancy appeared to signal that officials are still far away from implementing a statewide Covid-19 vaccine mandate in schools — if they decide to do so at all.

State officials have largely sidestepped the question of whether or not Vermont’s children should be required to get the shot, despite polling that shows such a mandate would be popular.

Jason Maulucci, a spokesperson for Gov. Phil Scott, said last week that the governor is waiting to hear from health officials and parents before weighing in.

“However, as the governor has said many times, while he believes being vaccinated is the right decision for individuals to make, he’s proud of the fact that Vermonters are leading the nation in many vaccination categories, without it being mandatory,” Maulucci said.

At the meeting, and in Scott’s weekly press conference, Levine said the question of mandating vaccines was not a pressing one.

“I do not regard it to be an urgent matter,” Levine said at the press conference. “We are by far leading the nation in the effort to get (children) vaccinated and the percentage that are already vaccinated.”

A decision on a mandate would have to take into account a number of factors, officials said, including the effectiveness of the shots in children, the severity of Covid-19 in children, and how many children have received vaccines without mandates.

Under state statute, the Immunization Advisory Council — which can only make recommendations, not rules — is required to meet a minimum of once a year.

But the body’s last meeting, according to Health Department spokesperson Bennett Truman, took place in June 2020. It was not immediately clear why the group did not meet in 2021.

Truman said that officials “anticipate” another meeting before the end of 2022, but did not provide a date.

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