As COVID infections of 5- to 11-year-olds remain higher than others, NYC mandates vaccines for extracurriculars

Students dance together on a blacktop playground on the first day of school in New York City.
Students dance together on a blacktop playground on the first day of school in New York City. The city is mandating vaccines for elementary-aged children who want to participate in “high-risk” extracurricular activities, such as sports, band, chorus, and dance. (Alex Zimmerman / Chalkbeat)

As coronavirus infections among New York City’s 5- to 11-year-olds outpace other age groups, officials are mandating vaccines for these children participating in certain extracurricular activities, city officials announced Monday.

Given that  5- to 11-year-olds only became eligible for COVID shots last month, their vaccination rates trail the citywide rate of 78% for all residents. So far, nearly 20% of all children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose, according to Michael Lanza, a spokesperson for the city’s health department.

Now, children in that age group must get at least one COVID vaccine dose by Dec. 14 to participate in “high-risk” activities such as sports, band, chorus, and dance, where children are in close contact or are singing, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said Monday. 

Such a mandate is already in place for children ages 12 and up. 

“Most kids don’t necessarily participate in those activities,” de Blasio told reporters. “That’s fine, but for those who do, we want to make sure they have that protection.”

Additionally, starting Dec. 14, the city is extending its indoor restaurant, entertainment venue and fitness vaccine requirements to children ages 5 to 11, de Blasio said. 

The new directives come as the city logged nearly 169 cases per every 100,000 of the city’s 5- to 12-year-olds during the week that ended on Nov. 27, outpacing any other group, according to the most recent publicly available data. The rates for this age group jumped past others at the start of this school year, and is considered a “high” level of transmission by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The city opened vaccine clinics at elementary schools last month, as soon as Pfizer shots were approved for 5- to-11-year-olds. Of the roughly 130,000 children in that age group who have at least one dose, about 41,000 of them have been vaccinated at public schools, according to education and health department officials. 

De Blasio announced sweeping new vaccine mandates on Monday for private-sector businesses, but he has repeatedly declined to require vaccines of school-aged children, in fear of blocking children from classrooms. Mayor-elect Eric Adams has expressed support for such a rule, citing other vaccines that are required of public school children. 

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