Los Angeles has become the first major school system in the United States to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all students 12 and older. Polls show, however, that many parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated, and some may decide to keep their children home for online learning or transfer them to other schools, according to the Times. One board member told the Times that after Thursday’s vote, about 60% of the emails he received opposed the mandate. The anti-vax groups include rich, white, liberal parents who oppose childhood vaccinations; conservative activists who have targeted the COVID-19 vaccines; and poor Black and Hispanic families who don’t trust the medical establishment, the Times notes.
L.A.’s Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to require all students 12 and older to be vaccinated before they can attend in-person classes, The New York Times reports. The school district is the second largest in the nation, and the mandate affects some 460,000 students, including those in independent charter schools housed in district buildings.
The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 is widespread across the United States. Vaccination is needed to ensure schools can stay open, Megan Reilly, interim schools superintendent says. “We owe this child his senior year,” Reilly says peaking about a 12th-grade athlete.
Vaccinations are already required for teachers and staff.
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 58% of 12- to 18-year-olds have received at least one vaccine dose.
Some parents will oppose any mandate because no vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 has received full government approval. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer vaccine on an emergency basis for older children and might grant full approval this year. (No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for children under 12). However, in an interview published Friday vaccine maker, BioNTech shared that they are nearly ready to seek approval of the Pfizer vaccine in children as young as five years old. The request could be made as soon as a few weeks from now.
The FDA released the following statement Friday regarding the vaccine for children:
“Just like every vaccine decision we’ve made during this pandemic, our evaluation of data on the use of COVID-19 vaccines in children will not cut any corners. Conducting clinical trials to determine an appropriate vaccine dose in children requires
additional work over that done in the adult studies, including ensuring that the vaccine dosage and formulation strength used is the appropriate one from the perspective of safety and generating an immune response. We have to let the science and data guide us. The FDA is working around the clock to support the process for making COVID-19 vaccines available for children.”
Another concern is a rare side effect of the Pfizer vaccine, called myocarditis, that affects the heart and disproportionately strikes young men, some public health experts have pointed out.
Reopen California Schools — which sued to prevent mask mandates, virus testing and quarantines — said on Thursday that numerous legal challenges to the vaccine mandate are expected.
While the vaccines cannot guarantee a virus-free school environment, vaccinated people are less likely to be infected with the coronavirus. And if they do get COVID-19, studies have shown they are far less likely to become seriously ill than unvaccinated people.
All states mandate childhood vaccines for school children, such as those for polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox, the Times notes.
But Angelica Ramos, 29, a mother of three public school students in South Los Angeles, tells the Times she would send her children to a charter school or home-school them before having them vaccinated.
“It shouldn’t be mandatory,” Ramos says. “It should be our decision.”
Other California cities have already approved a vaccine mandate or are considering one.
Whether other large cities will follow L.A.’s example remains to be seen. The mayors of New York City and Chicago have said
they don’t plan to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for school attendance, according to the Times.
In Los Angeles, students must have the first of two doses by Nov. 21. They need their second shot by Dec. 19 to begin the next semester. Those who turn 12 after that will have 30 days to get their first shot, according to the news report.
L.A.’s teachers’ union supports the vaccine mandate and continues to ask for aggressive quarantines for those exposed to the virus, the Times report.
“With so many educators being parents as well, we understand that many questions and concerns exist around the vaccine,” Cecily Myart-Cruz, union president, says in a statement. “But these questions should not take away from the critical step that will keep our schools safer and help protect the most vulnerable among us, including children too young to be vaccinated.”
The FDA recommends that parents of young children, especially those under 12 who are unable to get vaccinated do the following to protect them from the virus:
- get vaccinated
- wear masks
- follow recommended precautions