LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A CDC advisory committee recommended the COVID vaccine be added to the immunization schedules of children and adults. The 15-person panel did so unanimously Thursday.

The decision to officially add COVID vaccination to the schedule now goes to the CDC. The agency is expected to adopt the recommendation.

During the annual meeting, doctors on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) wanted to make sure one thing was clear.

“Moving Covid-19 to the recommended immunization schedule does not impact what vaccines are required for school entrance,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said. “Local control matters. And we honor that the decision around school entrance for vaccines rests where it did before, which is with the state level, the county level and at the municipal level, if it exists at all.”

Ebony Butler, a parent in Jacksonville, hopes Arkansas and other states will leave it as a recommendation and not a requirement.

“I don’t agree. I think that the COVID vaccine should be just like the flu vaccine where you get that if you want to,” Butler stated.

Arkansas lawmakers got ahead of this recommendation last in 2021 when the legislature passed Act 977. It prohibits the state from mandating a vaccine or immunization for COVID-19.

Our station reached out to the Arkansas Department of Health for comment on the decision. Dr. Joel Tumlison, Arkansas’ medical director for immunizations said in a statement:

“ACIP adding the mRNA vaccines into the recommended childhood vaccination schedule does NOT make it a mandate.  It does not trigger any vaccine requirement from the state, for school kids or otherwise.  It simply includes it in the recommended routine vaccines that doctors should give children.  The decision on whether to require a vaccine to enter school lies with the state.  In Arkansas, that has to be approved by the State Board of Health.  As you mentioned, last year an Arkansas law was passed stating that it would be, at a minimum, 3 years from full approval of the vaccine before a requirement could be enacted.  And even then, the Board of Health would have to consider it and then make a decision about it.”

Dr. Tumlison also answered a question asking what the Arkansas Health Department does every year with the CDC recommended immunization schedule for children and adults. He said,

“We make sure that the vaccines we are offering to both children and adults at our LHUs (local health units) or at events correspond with the recommended immunization schedule.  All our LHUs are VFC (Vaccines For Children) program sites, so all VFC sites would do the same.  Some years, a vaccine(s) will be added to the recommended schedule, which we’d start giving.  Other years, a vaccine might be removed from the recommended immunization schedule by ACIP.  Regarding today’s decision by ACIP to include mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in the children’s immunization schedule, it makes little practical difference as of right now, as these vaccines have already been recommended and are being given in our LHUs.  But this move by ACIP is done to prepare for the situation in the future (likely sometime in 2023) when the US government is no longer paying for all COVID vaccines, and they would be rolled into the more normal process.  This is a preparatory step for that eventuality.”

Butler said she is uncomfortable with the COVID vaccine being added to what is required for public school children because she feels it is so new.

“A lot of those shots that we get those shots are from decades ago,” Butler said. “I think those shots are enough.”

While some disagree with CDC doctors, others believe the health professionals when they argue these recommendations can prevent serious disease.

ACID committee member Dr. Matthew Daley said, “The reason that things are added to the schedule is that we feel like the benefits strongly outweigh the risks.”

One example of a vaccine making the immunization recommendation list but not being mandated everywhere is the HPV vaccine in 2006. Only a few states require it for public school attendance.

Current vaccines required in Arkansas schools include DTap, HIB, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, & Rubella, Meningococcal ACWY, Pneumococcal Conjugate (PCV13), Polio, TD (Tetanus, Diphtheria), Tdap (Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis), Varicella (Chickenpox).