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Can schools require the COVID-19 vaccine?

The vaccine is still being developed for children, but many are wondering if it will be added to the list of required school immunizations.

TAMPA, Fla. — Two coronavirus vaccines are currently under emergency use authorization in the United States.

Doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are being distributed across Tampa Bay to healthcare staff, essential workers, first responders and seniors. As we get closer to more widespread availability for the general public, some people are wondering if workplaces and schools can require the vaccine at some point.

There is a legal precedent for mandatory vaccines that goes back to a Supreme Court case in 1905. The court ruled that states can in fact mandate vaccines to protect public health. So yes, it is legal for a state to mandate vaccines like the one for COVID-19.

Florida currently requires students in public schools K-12 to have immunizations for DTaP (Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis), polio, MMR (mumps measles rubella), hepatitis B, and varicella (chickenpox). Flu vaccines are highly encouraged as well. 

The vaccine for COVID-19 isn't approved for use in children yet, so talking about whether or not schools can require it may be a conversation to have down the line. 

"The problem is that these vaccines are under emergency use authorization [for adults]. They're not licensed, so in a sense, it's still an investigational product," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health.

Moderna and Pfizer have both started clinical trials including patients as young as 12. Once the vaccines are tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, then schools can have a conversation about mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. 

RELATED: Why isn't the COVID-19 vaccine available for kids?

"We also know that kids aren't as affected by COVID-19 symptoms, but we do have to consider they may spread it more than we know," said Dr. Teng. Children are less prone to show COVID-19 symptoms, but they are at risk of a severe sudden COVID-19 related illness, called multisystem inflammatory disorder or MIS-C.

RELATED: Florida mom asks parents to 'know the signs' as MIS-C cases continue to rise

Before schools can add a licensed coronavirus vaccine to the list of immunizations required, the Centers for Disease Control would have to add it to its list of childhood immunizations. Then, individual state legislatures would vote whether or not to require it.

RELATED: Can my employer require the COVID-19 vaccine?

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