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Los Angeles became the first major school district in the country to issue a vaccine mandate when its Board of Education unanimously voted last week to require all eligible students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes.
“This action is about doing our job to be able to offer public schools that children can come to school and be safe,” Mónica García, a board member, said before the vote. The mandate requires students 12 and older to receive their first dose of the vaccine by Nov. 21 and be fully vaccinated by Dec. 19. There are earlier deadlines for students who want to participate in extracurricular activities.
The board’s decision comes amid a spike in COVID cases among children nationwide, though serious cases continue to be rare. A number of states and cities across the nation have mandated vaccinations for teachers and other school staff, but it’s unclear whether many districts will follow L.A.’s lead in requiring shots for students as well.
The idea would likely face heavy resistance in conservative parts of the country that have rejected other COVID protocols, like mask requirements. So far only a few districts in heavily Democratic cities have said they are actively considering mandates. Administrators in New York and Chicago, which have the largest and third-largest school districts in the country, respectively, have said there are no current plans to require students to be vaccinated.
Why there’s debate
While student COVID vaccine mandates don’t appear likely to become widespread in the short term, many public health experts support the policy. “I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN, while noting that school vaccine requirements have proven very effective at keeping a long list of other infectious diseases under control. Fauci and other supporters say student vaccine mandates will not only protect children and staff from the coronavirus, but will also help prevent on-campus outbreaks that could force schools to close. Polls suggest that a majority of both parents and teachers believe it’s worthwhile to require eligible students to be vaccinated.
The most vehement opposition to student vaccine mandates echoes many of the complaints that have fueled pushback to school mask requirements. Critics say it’s unfair to force children to get the vaccine when they face a very low risk of severe infection and there’s substantial evidence that schools can be kept safe using other mitigation strategies.
Others fear that a large share of parents would pull their children from schools rather than comply with the mandates, a step that would subject many students to inadequate distance learning over a medical choice they’re not able to make for themselves.
A major factor influencing school COVID policies is the fact that there are currently no vaccines approved for children under the age of 12. Experts say emergency approval of the first vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds could come before the end of the year.
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Vaccines are by far the most effective COVID mitigation tool available
“A safe vaccine that can prevent transmission, protect our kids and ensure that they can stay in in-person learning actually makes a lot of sense. And there’s historical precedent for doing so.” — Dr. John Brownstein, epidemiologist, to ABC News
It’s wrong to force children to get the vaccines
“Requiring the shots for adults who are independent and capable of making informed decisions is one thing, but forcing minors to get a vaccine that is still being tested to protect them from a virus that is not a threat to their health is wrong.” — Kaylee McGhee White, Washington Examiner
Everyone on campus, including students, has a duty to protect those around them
“With the easily transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, everyone within the close confines of a school must help protect everyone else as much as they are able. The school district has a great coronavirus testing program, but the vaccine easily beats out tests and masks as the best way to confine the spread of the virus and greatly reduce the number of serious cases.” — Editorial, Los Angeles Times
Too many schools will be forced to close if students aren’t vaccinated
“So far, we’ve not seen a lot of Covid vaccine mandates, even for the teenagers. It’s gonna have to happen if we’re going to get kids through the school year.” — Dr. Peter Hotez, vaccine expert, to CNN
The sheer number of parents opposed could make mandates unenforceable
“Lots of parents aren’t going to get their kids vaccinated. A third say they won’t, and just half say they probably or definitely will. Unless those numbers change a lot, almost every school or system is going to have a significant number of families who don’t want to vaccinate their kids. That means it’ll likely be challenging to make vaccination a condition of attendance.” — Rick Hess, Education Week
Blowback to mandates could hamper schools in the short and long term
“If many families refuse to comply, the influx of kids reverting to remote learning could strain already overloaded independent study programs. Some families may choose to yank their kids out of schools with such requirements altogether, exacerbating California’s historic public school enrollment drop.” — Emily Hoeven, CalMatters
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