(The Center Square) – As the vaccine rollout for children ages 5-11 begins, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools has not been ruled out and it would have to go through the legislature.
In California, COVID-19 vaccines will be added to the state’s list of immunizations required for school attendance.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Tuesday that Illinois could eventually do the same.
“No vaccine requirement at this time, but that’s not probably forever,” Ezike said. “That probably could change much further down the line.”
COVID-19 requirements have been implemented around the country. Some school systems and the state of Hawaii have begun to require teen athletes and after-school program participants to get vaccinated.
In other states, Republican lawmakers have banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for college students and school children.
“Here in Illinois that requirement is something that would go through the legislature as others have,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker after receiving a COVID-19 booster shot Tuesday. “We require lots of vaccinations when kids go to school already.”
Vaccine mandates by states have been around for more than a century. In the 1850s, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate a smallpox vaccination for school children.
By the early 1980s, all 50 states had vaccination laws covering students first entering school.
James Colgrove, a public health historian who studies the evolution of vaccination policies, wrote in Civil Beat that a school vaccination mandate would be a tough sell.
“COVID-19 vaccination has become politicized in a way that is unprecedented, with sharp partisan divides over whether COVID-19 is really a threat, and whether the guidance of scientific experts can be trusted,” Colgrove wrote.
“Fierce opposition to COVID-19 vaccination, powered by anti-government sentiment and misguided notions of freedom, could undermine support for time-tested school requirements that have protected communities for decades,” Colgrove said.
As for Illinois’ mask mandate, Pritzker said there are several things he is looking at before dropping the mandate, with the two most important being COVID hospitalizations and vaccinations.
“Are the hospitalization numbers, for example, increasing, decreasing, or staying the same,” Pritzker said. “We want them to decrease, they’re not currently just to be clear. New hospitalizations are flat.”
Pritzker had earlier said he was hopeful mask mandates would be lifted in time for the upcoming holidays.