Covid 1984

Yesterday, at large council member Christina Henderson, along with council chair Phil Mendelson, introduced legislation that would, literally, only change one term in existing law, from “2022-2023” to “2023-2024.”

In so doing, the council member is proposing to throw out her own legislation, which required all DC school students 12 and up to get vaccinated for the coronavirus starting this school year (the 2022-2023 above). The new legislation would push back that deadline by a year (hence, 2023-2024). A vote on it is expected soon.

To understand why this is happening now, we need to go back to October 11, when the council held a roundtable on compliance with required school immunizations.

That date also marked the start of keeping students away from schools for lack of vaccination compliance. In the days before the roundtable, Ward 4 council member Janeese Lewis George tweeted out data that showed poor vaccine compliance among DC students was widespread, with a jaw-dropping 46% noncompliance with the mandated covid vaccine.

Despite those frightening statistics, most of the October 11 roundtable was beset with concerns over . . . record keeping.

For instance, while DCPS tracks its own students’ vaccinations (and reported relatively good compliance), the roundtable featured a variety of government and charter personnel testifying that many DC charters have unreliable data on vaccine compliance. They blamed poor record keeping in, and databases of, the DC department of health (DOH).

Additional hurdles cited for DC charters included the “burden” of schools having to track this data, along with lack of staff to do so—hence, the reliance on DOH databases. Suggestions included pushing back the vaccine compliance deadline and revisiting the covid vaccine mandate.

In the face of such apparent structural issues, at the 36 minute, 50 second mark council chair Mendelson asked a reasonable enough question: “why can’t a school keep track of its own students” rather than DOH?

The answer: Staffing.

A variety of charter advocates explained that they simply didn’t have dedicated staff for this purpose and preferred to focus on teaching.

This would be fine and well as an answer but for the fact that DC charters have >$400 million in unrestricted cash, which represents at least 3 times what the charter board requires and a growth of $60 million from the year before.

Or, to put it more bluntly:

$60 million in 1 year buys a whole lot of staff.

The roundtable went on for hours like this.

For instance, at the 2 hour, 13 minute mark, Mendelson asked why there are patient care technicians (PCTs) in only 96 charters representing 53 LEAs, a subset of the total in DC. The representative for the office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) said that they offered PCTs to all charters, but only 96 accepted. (DCPS hired PCTs separately for all its schools.)

We also learned that not all DC’s publicly funded schools have school nurses.

At the 2 hour, 19 minute mark, Henderson herself worried about the lack of routine pediatric vaccinations in DC student populations, while the deputy mayor for education (DME) mentioned how schools are burdened with outreach to students.

The DME neglected to mention that he is in charge of every agency that could, if they wanted, track students and reach out to them—and that he also has the ear of the mayor to ensure DOH help. (The little things!)

A few minutes later, at the 2 hour, 27 minute mark, the DME testified that we have learned a lot that might cause rethinking of DC’s covid vaccine mandate for its publicly funded schools.

[Confidential to the DME: Personally, I’d love to know what you learned to cause such rethinking! And I bet the folks at the private school you send your children to would love to know, too. As you know, that school has long had a covid vaccine mandate possibly because people are still getting sick with covid and even dying of it. What have they not learned that you have?]

Henderson shot back to note that in 2021, most DC people dying from covid were unvaccinated and Black. She then noted that that was the motivation “at that time” for the covid vaccine mandate (whose legislation she sponsored), hinting at this new legislation.

And no one disputed Henderson.

In fact, a few minutes later, panelists then began to discuss revisiting the covid vaccination mandate—from which this legislation the council will soon vote on took shape.

The extraordinary path to this historical (and biological!) revisionism comes as literally no official at that roundtable mentioned misinformation about vaccination in general, or of covid in particular, as the cause for the poor vaccine uptakes we see among many DC students.

Nor was mentioned the fact that we still have people getting sick with covid. And dying.

Not surprisingly, the request to “agendize” this new legislation, pushing back by a year the covid vaccination mandate in schools, is a masterwork in just such doublespeak.

For instance, it notes that in 2021, “the District was in the midst of an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases stemming from the new Omicron variant. At the time, the decision to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of enrollment was the best policy choice available to the Council.”

The document mentions nothing about other policy choices to protect schools, since rescinded or never implemented, including universal masking; outdoor classrooms; better HVAC; and more robust and universal remote learning.

The document then goes on to state that DC “must be certain that the data and the treatments on which it bases determinations of exclusion are accurate and up to date before excluding students from school. . . . As COVID-19 treatments improve and are updated, it is essential that students have access to the most effective available treatments possible before being excluded from school.”

OK, I have tried, really:

Who is saying students do not have “access to the most effective available treatments” for covid? And is lack of such access the proximate cause of poor vaccine uptake? (Really??)

And how would such access make a difference in terms of preventing the spread in the first place in a close environment like a school? Is the belief here that such treatments would provide a way for students to not infect others if they themselves are infected and nonetheless admitted to school??

And what has treatment of covid got to do with preventing it in the first place? Is the belief here that once you are “treated” you will never get covid again? (Really?)

Moreover, if we posit that an infected student does in fact have “access to the most effective available treatments” for covid, how does that matter to an immunocompromised family member or teacher of that student, for whom contracting covid may be, literally, a death sentence, “the most effective available treatments” notwithstanding?

It is worth noting here that nowhere is mentioned the ubiquity of free covid vaccines throughout DC, especially once the original legislation, mandating the vaccine, was passed.

All of these things suggest that the mention here of these “effective available treatments” appears to be tacit acceptance that no one in the city has any appetite to enforce the covid vaccine mandate and that such treatments will be a stand-in for robust vaccination compliance.

Sadly, the tortuous (and frankly anti-scientific) logic of this document doesn’t end there.

The document then goes on to state that “routine pediatric immunizations do not require periodic updates to remain effective.” (Really? My pediatricians would like to disagree, given the number of boosters my kids received for routine pediatric vaccinations. But then, I wasn’t asking my doctors for “the most effective available treatments” for tetanus instead of blithely getting my kids immunized against tetanus repeatedly—pity.)

The document then states that the lack of “periodic updates” to routine vaccinations is why this extension is being made specifically for the covid vaccine (which presumably requires more “periodic updates” than other vaccinations).

The document then closes with an assurance that “this extension will ensure that students have time to receive the most up to date and most effective disease prevention treatments, allow parents and students the time they need to be better educated about the COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy and merits, and grant the District more time to reconcile the databases upon which it will make student exclusion determinations.”

So here’s where we’re at:

Vaccines work—but no one is pushing against rampant and widespread misinformation about them as the direct cause of poor compliance.

No one is demanding that some part of $400 million be used for extra charter staff to ensure vaccine compliance right now (as opposed to giving DC “more time to reconcile databases,” whose efficacy is under the oversight of, uh, no one).

No one is mentioning that mandates ensure teacher and student safety.

No one is mentioning that dropping all mitigation strategies besides vaccination, including masks and robust HVAC repairs, is unsafe.

And no one is mentioning (or seemingly understanding) the most basic public health measure of all: that you and your personal values alone are not enough and that treatments are not enough, either, in a pandemic.

So we’re all going to get covid—and maybe we’ll have “access to the most effective available treatments.”

Or maybe not.

Good luck.

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