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U.S. Air Force Capt. Angel Colon administers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to a high school student at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on June 4, 2021.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Angel Colon administers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to a high school student at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on June 4, 2021. (Madeline Herzog/U.S. Air Force)

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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Students at Defense Department schools in the European region who want to travel to participate in extracurricular activities must now be vaccinated against COVID-19.

That announcement came Thursday in a letter from the Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe.

This is the first time since the start of the pandemic that DODEA-Europe students have been given a vaccination requirement of any kind.

“As it stands now, proof of COVID vaccination will be required for all passengers traveling to and from” events under the organization’s auspices, DODEA-Europe Director Michelle Howard-Brahaney wrote.

In addition, proof of a booster shot or a negative test might be required of students 18 and older as well as coaches and other adults, Howard-Brahaney wrote.

The decision on whether to require proof of a booster shot or a negative test will rest with local bus companies, some of which pressed DODEA-Europe to adopt the vaccination mandate, education officials said.

If required, the proof would have to be valid for the entirety of the trip.

The requirement was implemented after consultation with military leaders and medical experts and generally falls in line with requirements of the respective host nation.

Participants in basketball, marksmanship and wrestling will be the ones immediately affected, with events scheduled across the continent on Friday and Saturday.

The decision may add to the uncertainty of an ever-changing situation that students, parents and educators have been experiencing for almost two years.

DODEA-Europe successfully relaunched football and volleyball in the fall after a year’s absence. But basketball and wrestling were put on pause in December, with the first week of play scheduled for this weekend.

Even so, not all teams are participating, as a handful are either in remote learning or under local restrictions prohibiting travel.

Athletes at schools hosting events do not need to be vaccinated, DODEA said. But if they wish to participate in events at other schools or places off base that involve the use of school-provided transportation, they’ll need to get shots.

Howard-Brahaney didn’t rule out other restrictions during the the winter season, which is set to end in February.

She said decisions regarding travel for specific events will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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