NYC Drops COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate For Student Athletes And Extracurriculars

In August 2021, the city announced that students participating in “high risk” extracurricular activities must be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a policy that covered roughly 20,000 students in the Public School Athletic League who play sports ranging from bowling to basketball. It also included students in chorus, band, and musical theater programs that weren’t part of their regular course loads.

Adams scrapped that requirement on Tuesday along with the vaccine mandate for private employers just before receiving the latest bivalent booster in front of reporters. But other vaccine requirements affecting public schools still stand: All staff must be vaccinated, including coaches who are employed by the city, and so must any visitors to school buildings, a policy that some parents have criticized.

City officials did not present a clear explanation about why the vaccine mandate is being peeled back in some contexts but not others.

“I don’t think anything dealing with COVID is — makes sense,” Adams said when asked about dropping the vaccine mandate for private employees but keeping it for public ones. “You make the decisions based on how to keep our city safe, how to keep our employees operating by taking the vaccine.”

Anna Bershteyn, an assistant professor of population health at NYU, said she supports ending the mandate for student athletes, given that some sports are held outdoors where the risks of transmission are lower. 

“I wouldn’t single out athletes specifically and I think there are better ways to boost vaccination rates that don’t interfere with healthy activities by children,” she said.

Bershteyn pointed to school-based vaccine clinics as one way to boost uptake, something the city has done in the past. But the city’s health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, suggested the focus would be to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated through their pediatrician or through other healthcare providers.

“That was really intended to raise childhood vaccination rates at a time when we could stand those things up,” Vasan said, referring to school-based vaccine clinics. “Now we’re at a point where emergency dollars are drying up.”

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