Will children eventually need the COVID vaccine to attend school in Las Vegas?

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Christopher DeVargas

A healthcare worker for the Southern Nevada Health Department draws up a syringe with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Monday Feb. 1, 2021.

Tue, Feb 23, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Students must have a number of vaccines — from measles to mumps to chickenpox — before entering school.

The new coronavirus vaccine isn’t among them, and it’s too early to predict if it ever will be, health experts said.

“I don’t think we’re at a point of being able to comment on that. There’s still a lot we have to learn about the pandemic and COVID,” said Heidi Parker, executive director of Immunize Nevada.

Brian Labus, an epidemiologist at UNLV and an expert on disease surveillance, said it has been years since a new vaccine has been added to the list of those required to enroll in Nevada schools.

The last one was for chickenpox in the early 2000s, Labus said. “We don’t change these things very often,” he said.

The state Board of Health decides which vaccines are mandatory for school.

An immediate impediment to adding the COVID vaccine is that the two vaccines now available haven’t been fully approved for children.

“We can’t make a vaccine mandatory if no kid can get it,” Labus said.

The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and older, and the drugmaker has started trials on children ages 12 to 15.

The Moderna vaccine, meanwhile, has only been approved for those 18 and older. It too is conducting tests on younger people — ages 12 to 17.

On March 1, Clark County School District students in pre-kindergarten through third grades will return to the classroom two days a week. Schools have been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic, with students taking classes via computer.

Young children tend to be more immune to the virus and when they get sick, the symptoms are generally milder, Labus said. They also are at a lower risk of transmission, he said.

“If we can’t open schools safely with the lowest risk group, there’s no way we could do it with the older group,” Labus said.

A total of 847 students have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, according to the School District.

Parker said she was concerned about parents staying current on the existing recommended vaccines for their children.

“We don’t want to see outbreaks of other diseases like measles while we’re still dealing with COVID,” she said.

Last school year, about 95% of Nevada kindergartners were vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, chickenpox, hepatitis B and polio, according to a census survey. About 3% were exempted from vaccinations for religious or medical reasons.

Students must show their immunization records to enroll in a public or private school in Nevada.

Infants and toddlers have a CDC-recommended vaccination schedule for the first two years of their lives. If parents stick to that schedule, their children will be up to date on the required school immunizations.

The CDC recommends infants be vaccinated for polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B and chickenpox by the time they are 2 years old. The same vaccinations are required to enroll in kindergarten. Booster doses are recommended at age 4.

At age 11, children must be vaccinated for meningitis, tetanus, and diphtheria before entering school. The CDC also recommends HPV and flu vaccines.

Children are not required to be vaccinated unless they are going to school, even though they are at higher risk of getting some diseases before they reach kindergarten, Labus said.

Most insurance companies cover the cost of recommended vaccines. Children under an insurance plan that doesn’t cover vaccines or children without insurance, can enroll in the Nevada Vaccines for Children Program to get vaccinated for free. Information about vaccine clinics can be found by clicking here.

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