Athletics Vaccination Requirement - FAQs

Questions and Answers

Beginning November 8, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) requires student-athletes be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the winter and spring sports seasons as an additional safety measure to support our layered prevention strategies. An increase in positive COVID-19 cases in sports programs results in large numbers of students being paused from athletic participation and, more importantly, classroom instruction.
 

Vaccination Requirement

Students who are 16 years of age or older (age as of November 8 for Winter Season) who are unvaccinated and do not have either a medical or religious exemption will not be able to participate in team activities.  

In addition, unvaccinated students who are 12 -15 years of age who do not provide a weekly negative Covid-19 test will not able to participate in team activities. 

Currently FCPS is working on securing a vendor to assist with providing access to weekly testing for athletes.  We will share more information as it becomes available. 
 

Submitting Proof of Vaccination

Starting October 4, student athletes can submit their proof of Covid-19 vaccination to their schools.  Students will need to either:

  • show their vaccination cards to authorized school personnel

Schools will provide specific details of submitting proof of vaccination information.

Exemptions

Is there a religious exemption? 

Students who are not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious reasons will be exempt from the requirement, but they will need to provide information to their schools.

Starting October 4, student athletes can submit the Commonwealth of Virginia Certificate of Religious Exemption form to their schools.  The form must be notarized and should be submitted directly to the Student Activities Office of their high school. 

Students who are not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious reasons will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly.  

Deadline for Submitting Religious Exemptions

The deadline for submitting religious exemptions for the Winter Season is Monday, November 1.  The exemption must be received by the November 1 deadline for students to participate in winter tryouts.  This will allow enough time for those students with a medical  exemption to provide proof of their negative Covid-19 test that week so that they may participate in tryouts.  As a reminder, all students with a religious exemption for receiving the COVID-19 vaccination must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly. 

Is there a medical exemption?

Students who are not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to documented health or medical reasons will be exempt from the requirement, but they will need to provide information to their schools. 

Starting October 4, student athletes can submit the medical exemption information to their schools.  They will need to provide documentation of a medical exemption from their physician. Students can do this through a letter from their doctor (on the doctor’s office letterhead) stating the student has a medical condition that prevents them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Students who are not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to documented health or medical reasons will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test weekly.

Deadline for Submitting Medical Exemptions

The Deadline for submitting medical exemptions for the Winter Season is Monday, November 1.  The exemption must be received by the November 1 deadline for students to participate in winter tryouts.  This will allow enough time for those students with a medical exemption to provide proof of their negative COVID-19 test that week so that they may participate in tryouts.  As a reminder all students with a medical exemption for receiving the COVID-19 vaccination must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test weekly. 
 

Timeline

Do students need to wait until two weeks have passed after their vaccination to participate in athletics?

A student is considered fully vaccinated if two weeks have passed since their last COVID-19 shot. However, as long as they have had their second shot by November 8 they may participate. 

Why the November timeline and why are fall sports exempt from the policy? 

Fall sports have already begun. It is too late to require proof of vaccination for participation in fall sports as this could negatively impact students who are already playing/participating.
 

Decision Making

Why did FCPS decide to mandate vaccinations for high school athletes? 

This is the area where FCPS is seeing the highest number of pauses. Athletics are deemed high contact activities with an increased chance for spread. Vaccinating student athletes adds another layer of protection against the virus, particularly as the majority of students do not wear masks while competing. 

Requiring vaccinations reduces the need for contact tracing by both the school staff and the health department. It will also greatly reduce the number of students and teams paused, thereby minimizing any time a student has to be paused from in-person learning. 

Was FCPS directed by anyone to develop this mandate? Why are you mandating a vaccine that is currently not part of the state requirements for school attendance?

VDH Interim Guidance for K-12 School Reopening instructs school divisions to prioritize educational opportunities over athletics, extracurricular activities, or other events in the school and surrounding community. Vaccinating our students is a critical step in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and minimizing any disruption to learning. The Virginia High School League supports FCPS’ decision.

This decision was made following a review of data that showed where our highest number of pauses were occurring. Our goal is to keep students in school whenever possible. This action should both lower the number of COVID-19 cases stemming from athletic activities and reduce the time a student is required to pause.

The state mandates vaccinations for instruction where students earn credit. The COVID-19 vaccine is not included in the list of required vaccines for classes in which students earn credits. FCPS can require vaccinations for voluntary participation in activities where no credit is earned.

Did the School Board discuss this decision and was there community input? 

The decision to require high school athletes be vaccinated against COVID-19 was an operational decision made by the division based on instructional impacts due to athletics. 

Why mandate this when the vaccine is still experimental for young children and it does not stop the spread of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 vaccine is useful to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep our students and staff safe. The Pfizer (brand name Comirnaty) vaccine is no longer under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for children 16+. FCPS will not mandate the vaccine for student-athletes who are 12-15 years of age. However, vaccination is strongly recommended and FCPS will collect the vaccination information for those 12-15 years of age who wish to provide it. Proof of vaccination will greatly limit the necessity for a student to be paused for contact tracing or being quarantined, therefore reducing missing any time from the team or classroom. Those that are not vaccinated must understand that when a close contact occurs that they will be paused from the activity and classroom for as long as it takes the Fairfax County Health Department to complete its contact tracing and provide the release for the student to return. Participating students who are not vaccinated will need to submit a weekly negative COVID-19 test.

Are other school divisions in Virginia also requiring their student-athletes to be vaccinated?

FCPS is the first school division in this region to require proof of vaccination for high-risk physical sports. Loudoun County Public Schools has just implemented this same mandate as well and other regions across the country, including Hawaii, have already implemented this requirement. Many other jurisdictions across the Northern Virginia region are considering a vaccine requirement for athletes. 

Who Is Affected

Why not require it of all students instead of just athletes? 

The state mandates vaccinations for instruction where students earn credit. The COVID-19 vaccine is not included in the list of required vaccines for classes in which students earn credits. We can only require vaccinations for voluntary participation in activities where no credit is earned. 

What about other VHSL activities including - Debate, Creative Writing, eSports, Forensics, Robotics, Student Leadership, Scholastic Bowl, etc.? What about other activities?

FCPS will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination for participation in any other activity that requires a physical, including dance team and step team. We are only mandating the vaccine for those VHSL activities that require a physical and are deemed high contact activities with an increased likelihood of transmission of the virus. 

How many FCPS students have received one dose of the vaccine?

A total of 76.6% of all Fairfax County 16-17 year olds are currently fully vaccinated and 86.7% have had one dose as of August 30.
 

Safety

What about the studies that show 12-17 year-olds have had the largest number of myocardial incidents related to the vaccine?

As with any activity, if parents are concerned about the health and welfare of their child, participation in athletics is optional and students do not have to participate. 
 

Proof of Vaccination and Alternatives

Everyone in our family has had COVID-19. Will FCPS take into consideration a prior infection?

No, prior infection will not be accepted as proof of being vaccinated.  Evidence is emerging that people get better protection by being fully vaccinated compared with having had COVID-19.  

Will FCPS accept a positive antibody test after a prior COVID-19 infection to meet the requirement?

No. Full COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all those who previously had a COVID-19 infection because:

  • Research has not yet shown how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again after you recover from COVID-19.
  • Vaccination helps protect you from getting COVID-19 and from passing it to others even if you’ve already had COVID-19.

According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), studies have shown that compared to the “natural immunity” in unvaccinated people who had COVID-19 illness, the immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccination in people who also had COVID-19 illness before is both stronger (higher antibody levels) and broader (can better protect against some of the new variant strains). 

In fact, one study showed that unvaccinated people who already had COVID-19 are more than 2 times as likely than fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 again. Learn more about why getting vaccinated is a safer way to build protection than getting infected.

Therefore, as variants of COVID-19 continue to appear and to spread more widely, COVID-19 vaccination becomes even more important for those previously infected with COVID-19. The recently identified variant viruses are both more infectious and less likely to be prevented by antibodies against earlier forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Fortunately, the available vaccines continue to work well against all variants that have been identified so far. 
 

Testing

What type of weekly testing is required?

Students who are not vaccinated will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis. This test will need to be either a rapid test or a PCR test. Home testing using over the counter testing products will not be accepted. 

Will FCPS be conducting surveillance testing on athletes prior to the November 8 deadline? Why have a testing option for staff but not students? 

FCPS will be conducting surveillance testing for FCPS staff starting in October and may explore options around surveillance testing for athletes in the near future.  
 

Comirnaty Vaccine

Can you please let me know where Comirnaty will be available in Fairfax County? 

Comirnaty is the new name for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It is the same vaccine as the one that was first authorized for use in December 2020. Over 200 million people in the U.S. have received the Pfizer vaccine. Please contact your medical provider or health department for information on where to obtain the Comirnaty vaccine.  

FCPS to Require Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination for Athletic Participation