A worker holds a bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. GRAEME ROBERTSON AP

Will students and teachers be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine in South Florida?

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Miami Herald | by Michelle Marchante and David Goodhue | December 21, 2020

Will teachers and students be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

At the moment, the answer appears to be no.

Last week, Florida received its first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and began distributing it to healthcare workers and long-term care residents. The state is also expected to get its first shipment of Moderna’s vaccine soon now that the drug received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration Friday.

Florida will eventually begin distributing COVID-19 vaccines to people older than 65, those with certain medical conditions and essential workers, including teachers and law enforcement. Once these groups get their shots, vaccine supplies would then become available to everyone else, likely in the spring.

The Pfizer vaccine can be given to people 16 and older and Moderna’s can be given to people 18 and older, which means most school-age children won’t be able to get the vaccine for now. Researchers haven’t begun clinical vaccine trials in children under 12 yet and trials in teens have recently started, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Vaccines are usually tested on adults before children, whose bodies are still developing and may require a different dose or respond differently to medication.

While most children recover from COVID-19, some have needed hospitalization and some have died from COVID-related complications. Children can also spread the disease to their parents, grandparents and others who might fall seriously ill.

WILL SOUTH FLORIDA SCHOOLS REQUIRE STUDENTS, TEACHERS TO GET COVID-19 VACCINE?

For high schoolers old enough to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the choice is up to their parents, according to Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe County public school districts.

All three districts told the Miami Herald that they don’t plan to make the vaccine a requirement for students, even when vaccines become readily available for kids, possibly by next school year.

Fernando Zulueta, chief executive officer of Academica, one of the state’s largest operators of public charter schools, said no decision has been made about requiring students and staff to take the vaccine.

“We haven’t crossed that bridge yet,” Zulueta said Tuesday.

The Archdiocese of Miami did not immediately respond to the Miami Herald’s request for comment.

WHAT ABOUT TEACHERS AND OTHER SCHOOL EMPLOYEES?

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho earlier this month sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees asking for MDCPS teachers and employees who have direct contact with students to be prioritized for the vaccine.

Since schools in Miami-Dade reopened on Oct. 5 for in-person learning, 812 staff members and 1,738 students have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the district’s Friday online dashboard, which keeps track of cases.

As of Tuesday, the district said it’s not planning to require teachers and other staff members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It does believe “in partnering with community organizations to advocate and explain the importance of being vaccinated against COVID-19,” a spokeswoman said.

Staff in the Florida Keys will also not be required to take the vaccine, said Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Monroe County School District. Broward County Public Schools is still undecided and said it is waiting to see what local health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend.

Broward public schools reopened for in-person learning on Oct. 9. Since then, the Department of Health has confirmed 556 students and 538 employees have tested positive, according to the district’s Friday online dashboard.

Keys schools have allowed in-person learning since August. Friday’s confirmed positive case count in the Monroe district is 97 students and 40 staff.

WHEN WILL THERE BE A COVID-19 KIDS VACCINE? WILL FLORIDA REQUIRE STUDENTS TO GET IT?

Based on the current pace of research, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s possible for a COVID-19 vaccine to be available for some age groups of children and adolescents before the next school year begins.

All public and private schoolchildren from kindergarten through 12th grade in Florida are required to get certain vaccines to attend school, even if they are learning online, with certain exceptions.

The COVID-19 vaccine won’t be one of the required shots.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the department tasked with the vaccine’s distribution, reiterated DeSantis’ stance that the state will never require residents to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Florida Department of Health tracks vaccination rates in students from kindergarten through seventh grade. By the time students reach middle school, they are supposed to have received all of their recommended childhood inoculations, which include vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, diptheria and hepatitis.

According to the latest Florida Department of Health numbers released in April, 95.2% of Miami-Dade public school seventh-graders were up to date on their required vaccinations. Broward public schools had a 96.2% vaccination rate among its seventh-graders, and Monroe County, the Florida Keys, had a rate of 94.2%.

Statewide, 96.1% of seventh-graders (includes public and private) had up-to-date vaccines.

Photo: A worker holds a bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. GRAEME ROBERTSON AP