WILMINGTON — Middle and high school students will not be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the state eyes a return to full in-person learning in the fall, according to both the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Department of Education.
“At this time we do not have a plan to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for students, however we continue to encourage parents to get their children who are eligible, vaccinated,” DPH said in a statement to the Delaware State News. “If they have questions we would strongly encourage them to reach out to their child’s primary care provider, or visit our website to see information specifically related to 12-15 year olds.”
More information on the COVID-19 vaccine for youths is available here.
According to DPH’s vaccine tracker, 25,454 individuals between ages 12 and 17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. This figure makes up 35.7% of that age demographic.
Those between ages 12 and 15 have only been eligible for the vaccine since May 12, when it was approved for all people 12 and older. They are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, as both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are for those 18 and older at this time.
Gov. John Carney said this week that the state is planning vaccination clinics at schools in an effort to vaccinate as many students as possible ahead of the new school year. Most youths are being vaccinated at pharmacies or their primary care doctor currently, the governor said.
“We’ve talked a lot about doing things in conjunction with schools and activities around schools,” Gov. Carney said. “A lot of our clinics now are moving to where people are in the summer. Where (are) most people getting vaccinated right now? Their local pharmacy. The other place where people are the most comfortable is at their primary care physician. You got a lot of children coming back, getting their annual physical. It’s probably the best place to talk to a patient when you got mom, dad and the children there.”
DPH reports that there have been 36 vaccination clinics in school districts throughout the state already, where more than 4,000 individuals received at least their first dose. The exact amount of students vaccinated at these events is unknown, however, as a DPH spokesperson said “most school-based/located clinics were open to students, staff, families, and some to the community, so we are not able to determine how many students specifically were actually vaccinated at these events.”
DPH said the school districts with the most clinics so far are Caesar Rodney, Cape Henlopen, Smyrna, Brandywine and New Castle County Vo-Tech. In addition, the urgent-care clinic Aspira Health, along with primary care and pediatric practices based in Lewes, has held vaccination events throughout Sussex County, including at Cape Henlopen High School, Seaford Middle School and Sussex Academy.
The Pfizer vaccine is also available at all DPH vaccine clinics, which can be viewed here.
What schools look like in the fall could depend on how many vaccinations have been done.
Another wild card in play is the Pfizer vaccine possibly being approved for use in children under 12, as the company is currently testing this in clinical trials.
DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said the state is unsure what restrictions, if any, will be in schools for the fall.
“I wish there was a black-and-white answer,” Dr. Rattay said. “It’s complex. If we knew that every student 12 and up was vaccinated and every staff member was vaccinated and that our numbers in our state continue to go down even lower than they are now, we’d feel great about it. But we’re not there yet with vaccinations for adolescents.”
For summer programming, students and staff must maintain a minimum of 3 feet apart with face coverings, including when seated at desks or standing in classrooms, in accordance with guidance from DPH.
However, educators and staff in schools and child care centers are not required to wear masks when children are not present, per Gov. Carney’s latest modification to the state’s emergency order. Students and staff also are not required to wear masks outdoors.
Gov. Carney said the state will wait for guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before creating its regulations for a return to in-person learning.
“The biggest topic is CDC guidance around school-age children, as everybody tries to bring children back to in-person instruction in the fall,” Gov. Carney said. “The simple message from the governors to the CDC is we need that guidance sooner rather than later.”
Dr. Rattay agreed.
“Should they be wearing masks? Should they be social distancing?” she said. “We’re eager to see that guidance, and hopefully, it provides an answer.”