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Rapid City School Board's proposed resolution to ban vaccines, testing has inaccurate information

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Radoslav Zilinsky
Getty Images
A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Rapid City Area School Board's proposed resolution to ban COVID-19 testing and any vaccinations on school grounds contains multiple inaccurate and incomplete statements, a medical expert says.

Calling the COVID-19 vaccines "experimental" is "very misleading, number one, and number two, it is so far from the truth," said Dr. Shankar Kurra, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Monument Health in Rapid City.

The proposed resolution will be voted on during a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. It argues students can get tested or vaccinated at multiple multiple healthcare facilities, and doing it at school takes children out of the classroom and eats up time for school nurses.

The resolution falsely says COVID-19 vaccines have received "FDA Experimental Use Authorization."

There is no such thing as an "experimental use authorization" for COVID-19 or any other vaccine, Kurra said. Giving people such a vaccine would be unethical.

The COVID-19 vaccines were at first given Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) but the adult Pfizer vaccine is now approved. The other adult and child vaccines are expected to gain full approval.

EUAs are allowed during public health emergencies when no other treatments are available. The FDA says it allows EUAs when the "known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine."

The school board resolution also makes statements that lack nuance or complete information, Kurra says.

The resolution says the school district uses COVID-19 tests that aren't diagnostic.

The South Dakota Department of Health has sent Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen tests to districts across the state and refers to them as "diagnostic."

Kurra says the tests are diagnostic, common and helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However he says they aren't as accurate as diagnosing the virus as molecular/PCR tests.

The BinaxNOW test correctly identifies positive COVID-19 infections 84.6% of the time compared to a PCR test, according to the FDA. It accurately identifies negative results 98.5% of the time.

This means people with a positive test are extremely likely have COVID-19, Kurra said. People who test negative but still have symptoms might consider getting a PCR test.

"That's their function. They're supposed to quickly pick up a positive test," Kurrra said.

There have been no COVID-19 vaccination clinics or discussions about having them, according to district spokeswoman Katy Urban.

At least two flu vaccination clinics are scheduled to take place at the school district. They are sponsored by Pennington County and the DOH.

Kurra said offering testing and vaccinations at schools can be convenient for students and parents.

"Not everyone has the ability to go get the testing or go get vaccinated," he said. "So equity, access, these are the ethical principles on which these public health measures are always done."

The resolution also says EUAs have a "far lower standard than a FDA approved vaccine."

Vaccines with EUAs go through the same three trials with the same requirements as approved vaccines, Kurra said. They also enroll and monitor the same amount of people — tens of thousands of them.

The difference is the EUAs allowed the vaccines to be administered after monitoring people for a shorter period of time, Kurra said.

He said vaccines are approved after observing recipients for any negative side effects after about two years. The EUAs were granted after two months of observation.

Negative vaccine side effects usually show up within two months but the FDA monitors for two years out of an abundance of caution, Kurra said.

Updated: November 16, 2021 at 1:55 PM CST
This agenda item was removed after the publication of this story. The school board president did not immediately return a call asking why the item was removed and whether it will be brought back at a later date.
Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.