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August 23, 2021

The next frontier for vaccine mandates: Public schools?

Daily Briefing

    As the delta sends children to the hospital in record numbers, more states and school leaders are imposing vaccine mandates for teachers and staff—and in Culver City, Calif., the mandate will soon apply to eligible students as well.

    Hospitalization rates for children surge

    While pediatric Covid-19 hospitalization rates are much lower than those for adults, an Aug. 13 report from CDC indicates that they have surged in recent weeks, the Associated Press reports.

    Specifically, according to CDC, pediatric hospitalization rates have increased from the previous record set in mid-January of 0.31 per 100,000 children ages 0 to 17, to 0.41 per 100,000 in recent weeks.

    Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said the spike in cases among children is "very worrisome."

    A patchwork of state mandates for teachers, staff

    In response to the latest spike in Covid-19 cases, several states have begun mandating vaccination for school teachers and staff, although some mandates include exceptions or alternatives, Fox News reports.

    For example, on Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced an executive order requiring all state employees, child care facility staff, and faculty and teachers at pre-K through grade 12 schools to receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by Sept. 27 or undergo weekly testing. (Hospital and long-term care employees will not have the testing option.)

    And while Lamont said he does not intend to issue a statewide mask requirement, children under 12 who are unable to receive a coronavirus vaccine will need to wear a mask in schools, Fox News reports.

    Similarly, California will require teachers in public and private schools to either get vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

    Additionally, in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that all K-12 school employees must be fully vaccinated before starting the fall school season. "Ensuring all the adults around students are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 adds another layer of protection for students," she said Thursday.

    And according to Axios, the state of Washington recently announced the "strictest school vaccine mandate in the U.S." Specifically, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) mandated that all employees working in the education system—public, charter, and private—must be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or risk being fired. This will apply not only to teachers but also coaches, bus drivers, and volunteers working in child care, early learning, and higher education.

    "When you decide to get a vaccine, you're protecting a kid out there who can't get it," Inslee said.

    Further, the state has expanded its indoor mask mandate to include all individuals, regardless of vaccination status.

    The next frontier—mandates for students?

    According to the Los Angeles Times, at least one school system in Los Angeles, Culver City Unified School District, went even further, becoming the first district in California to require all eligible students to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

    According to The Mercury News, district superintendent Quoc Tran said the policy is merely an extension of vaccine requirements for other childhood diseases. "Every year kindergarteners have to be inoculated for all kinds of diseases," he said. "It's not something new."

    According to the LA Times, Culver City's policy will give students until Nov. 19 to get vaccinated. However, Tran said the district may "ease off on that requirement" if "the pandemic is tapering off at that time."

    According to the LA Times, some parents, students, and public health experts have praised Culver City's policy. Robert Kim-Farley, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles' Fielding School of Public Health, called the decision "very proactive," adding that the district was "moving in the correct direction to require vaccination of students who are eligible as another method of protecting those students, as well as other students around them who are not eligible for vaccination."

    Dina Petringa, a local parent whose 15-year-old son is already vaccinated, said she is happy her community is taking the virus seriously, saying, "I want my son to be in school. He's missed 18 months of his life, and he'll never get that back. And I want him to go to school without any anxiety that he could bring back a virus that could kill his parents or his grandparents."

    Separately, Teriah Holten, a 17-year-old senior at Culver City High School, said she also supports the mandate. "Knowing that people are vaccinated around me will feel more comfortable," she said, "I think it'll give a lot of students an opportunity to understand that vaccinations are important. It'll be a catalyst."

    And according to Mercury News, Culver City may soon have company. Though Mercury News noted that many San Francisco-area districts do not currently have student vaccine mandate plans, Tran said that "other districts are thinking about it," citing his numerous conversations with other superintendents. (Falconer, Axios, 8/19; Goldstein, New York Times, 8/20; Gomez, Los Angeles Times, 8/18; Woolfolk, The Mercury News, 8/20; Richard, Fox News, 8/19; Tanner, Associated Press, 8/19)

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