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Alabama’s top education official is warning that low levels of child and adult coronavirus vaccinations could lead to youth sports disruptions again this year.
“If we don’t have children vaccinated, then we will have outbreaks this fall,” Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey said Thursday. “And when we have outbreaks, we’re going to have large numbers of people quarantined. We’re going to have to cancel volleyball and football games again — the same kinds of things we had to do last year — unless we get more people vaccinated.”
State health officials said they do not anticipate requiring COVID vaccines for school attendance this fall. The Alabama High School Athletic Association has not yet issued guidance for the coming 2021-22 school year.
“I am extremely concerned about the rate of vaccination in the state,” Mackey said, “and very disturbed that we are not getting more of our students vaccinated and more of our adults vaccinated.”
Read more: Birmingham school officials provide vaccines to students, families.
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AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs told AL.com he will strongly encourage schools to continue to follow guidelines and recommendations from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Department of Education, but has not issued any guidelines about players and vaccines.
“We understand the pandemic is still going on,” Briggs said, adding that communities have worked hard to keep players safe, and he expects they will continue to do so.
Briggs said he is fully vaccinated and supports vaccinations, but added he respects that vaccination is a personal choice.
Some schools are beginning to release plans for the 2021-22 school year that include some rules for continued social distancing, temperature checks and masks for some activities.
The FDA authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 in early May. While doctors have expressed some concern in increased reports of rare and mostly mild cases of heart inflammation in people under 30 after receiving the vaccine, the CDC continues to recommend the vaccine for all people 12 years old and older. No vaccine is 100% effective or risk-free, and health officials continue to say that long-term risks for unvaccinated children who contract coronavirus are much greater than potential side effects or complications from vaccines.
Read more: Six things Alabamians like more than COVID vaccines.
Jefferson County Health Officer Mark Wilson said team sports appeared to be the source of some COVID outbreaks last year, and athlete infections sometimes led to other school disruptions. Three Alabama school districts canceled their entire football season even before it started.
Alabama lags behind other states in vaccination rates. Just 30% of adults 18 and older are fully vaccinated and 7% of children aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Vaccines are not yet available for children under 12 years old.