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State: K-12 Schools Likely Prohibited From Requiring Students Be Vaccinated Against COVID

Chris Polansky
A COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the University of Tulsa on April 1, 2021.

Update (Thursday, May 13, 2:08 p.m.): This story and its headline have been changed to reflect a change in opinion issued by the Oklahoma State Department of Health after initial publication.

While some schools, colleges and universities elsewhere in the country have announced plans to require students be vaccinated against COVID-19, a top Oklahoma health official said Thursday that K-12 schools here will likely be prohibited from following suit. 

"We're not going to require it under any circumstances for the schools. Right now, all these vaccines are under emergency use authorization, and we don't have any intent on requiring these vaccines for school admissions, regardless of whether it's K-12 or higher ed," said Keith Reed, Oklahoma State Department of Health deputy commissioner.

In an emailed statement following this story's original publication, Reed said: "After further consideration, it appears that individual university governing boards may have the authority to mandate vaccination."

Reed said even if the vaccines were to receive full approval beyond their current emergency use authorization statuses, individual schools would likely not be able to decide to require them.

"For those to be required, it's part of a state process that we go through on our rules for vaccinations and then that goes through the legislature to get approval," Reed said. "So I don't believe a school itself would have the authority to require that. We don't have any intent on pursuing that on a state level. It's similar to flu shots each year. We don't require flu shots for school-aged children even though it is important for them to get vaccinated."

Reed spoke to reporters via Zoom on Thursday, one day after a federal advisory panel gave the green light for states to begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to children as young as 12, which Reed said had since begun in Oklahoma. 

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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