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Should the COVID-19 vaccine be required for students in Washington?

A KING 5 New poll showed a majority, 41% strongly support, 20% somewhat support while 27% strongly oppose and 9% somewhat oppose vaccine mandates for students.

REDMOND, Wash. — MMR, chickenpox, Polio. These are examples of vaccines the state requires for a child, without an exemption, to attend public school in Washington.

Now that Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children ages 5-11, should it be placed on that list as well?

In an exclusive KING 5 News poll, we asked: "Should the COVID-19 vaccine be mandated for students in public schools?"

Of those polled, 41% strongly support the idea, 20% somewhat support it, while 27% strongly oppose the idea of a mandate. Another 9% are somewhat opposed to the idea.

There's a division on each side of the Cascades.

In western Washington, 66% either strongly or somewhat support vaccine mandates in public schools, while 32% oppose. It's a different story in eastern Washington, where 54% of respondents strongly or somewhat oppose.

There's also a split among political affiliations. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats polled strongly or somewhat supported the vaccine mandate for children in public schools. Compare that to 63% of Republicans who strongly or somewhat oppose a mandate.

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The Pfizer vaccine was just approved this week for kids ages 5-11, and some school districts are already finding ways to distribute doses.

The Lake Washington School District, in partnership with the Seattle Visiting Nurses Association, will host two vaccine clinics for students this weekend with 1,800 doses available.

“There's an educational benefit for students who are immunized," said Matt Gillingham, associate superintendent of Student and Community Services "So, when students are identified as a close contact when there's a positive COVID-19 case in a school setting, there is a different response for kids who are immunized. And so, students who are immunized, as long as they're not experiencing any symptoms, they get to stay in class."

As for vaccine requirements for students, that's a decision made by the State Board of Health that districts then follow, leaving the final call out of the district's hands.

"We respect parents' right to make that health decision for their child, and people have all sorts of feelings about it. Our role is, we're just trying to be a good community partner help make that accessible and easy for families,” said Gillingham.

The Seattle Public School Board discussed issuing a resolution Wednesday night that would urge the Washington State Board of Health to include COVID-19 on its list of required immunizations for attending school. The board pushed the vote to November 17. Board President Chandra Hampson voiced concern the public might assume a connection between the district's vote to approve the resolution and the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5 to 11. Hampson said the timing was a coincidence.

"This is not about us mandating the vaccine, it's about us establishing our role as a school district is in crisis," said Hampson.

Outside the meeting, a small group gathered to protest. None of the demonstrators had children that attend Seattle Public Schools, but the group said it traveled from Snohomish County to protest the resolution since it's aimed at the State Board of Health.

"For some reason, they think they are entitled to speak for all of Washington. Snohomish and Monroe are in Washington, and we don't agree. We don't want that," said Monroe parent Justine Trisko.

For now, the COVID-19 vaccine is not a requirement for students to attend public schools in Washington.

The poll, which was conducted by SurveyUSA, surveyed 650 adults from Oct. 25-28, 2021. The poll represented the demographics of Washington state with 47% of people polled from the metro Seattle area, 29% from western Washington and 24% from eastern Washington.

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