Other School Districts in no Rush to Follow Los Angeles Unified Vaccine Mandate
Fourteen-year-old Allison Cunningham rushed to get her vaccine as soon as she became eligible for her shots.
But when she started her first year last month at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, she found that many of her classmates had not been so eager.
âPeople we donât know will sometimes sit and eat lunch with us,â Cunningham said. âAnd itâs kinda awkward to ask, âAre you vaccinated?ââ
Cunningham can interact with new classmates with more confidence now that the Los Angeles Unified School District school board voted Thursday to require all eligible students ages 12 and older to be vaccinated by Dec. 19.
âIâm pretty excited about it. Iâm glad weâre taking this step,â she said. âI feel more comfortable hanging out with people who are vaccinated.â
The Los Angeles Unified School District is the first major school district in the nation to require vaccines for students. But the move from Californiaâs largest school district wonât have an immediate ripple effect. While some California districts have already started considering a vaccine mandate for students, the conversation hasnât started at others.
âWe have so many kids in our district,â Cunningham said. âI think itâs our job to make it safe to come to school.â
No statewide momentum yet
Los Angeles Unifiedâs mandate requires that all students 12 and older receive their first dose by Nov. 3 and their second dose by Dec. 19, with earlier deadlines for students participating in in-person extracurricular activities. Younger students must be fully vaccinated within eight weeks of their 12th birthdays.
Los Angeles Unified isnât the first district to require vaccines for students.
The neighboring Culver City Unified School District issued a vaccine mandate in mid-August. Less than a week later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and older.
But as schools reopened statewide, no other districts in the state required vaccines for students.
âSome districts may hesitate because they feel itâs intrusive,â said Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association. âSome may feel that itâs too politically charged. Others may feel theyâve been able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through other measures.â
While health experts hope Californiaâs largest district can be a guiding light for others across the state, Flint said thereâs been no immediate rush to issue similar mandates.
âIâm sure there will be some other districts that take this step,â he said. âBut I donât get the feeling that this will become a huge trend in the short term.â
Alex Stack, a spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom, said there is currently no conversation about a statewide vaccine mandate for students.
Even at neighboring districts like Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County and Duarte Unified School District 20 miles east of Los Angeles, school leaders have not started considering a vaccine requirement for students.
Public health experts like Monica Gandhi from UC San Francisco and Andrew Noymer from UC Irvine support a vaccine mandate for all eligible students but said all students and staff should continue wearing masks indoors.
While children are less likely to have severe cases of COVID-19, those same experts say vaccinating children will help protect their families and the other adults in their lives. Vaccinations would reduce the number of quarantines for students and tilt the school year towards normalcy.
âWe already ask children to get vaccinated for preventable illnesses like measles, mumps and rubella,â said Gandhi, a professor of medicine. âThese kinds of mandates that keep society immune have been around a long time.â
The FDA has not fully approved the vaccine for children between the age of 12 and 15, but Gandhi said millions of students in those age groups have already been safely vaccinated under emergency use authorization.
Noymer, a public health professor, said the FDA prioritized approving the COVID-19 vaccine for adults not because the shots are dangerous for kids, but because adults are most at risk of getting sick.
âThe idea was never that we need to protect these children from vaccines because vaccines are experimental and dangerous,â he said. âWe vaccinate kids all the time.â
Oakland Unified starts the conversation
On Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the Los Angeles Unified School District school board passed its vaccine mandate for students, the Oakland Unified School Districtâs board introduced a resolution that tasks the superintendent with coming up with a plan for getting all students vaccinated.
âThereâs no date set yet for a vaccine requirement, but itâs definitely gonna be soon,â said Gary Yee, an Oakland school board member.
He added that students could be exempt from the requirement for medical or religious reasons, but might have to provide a note from a doctor to be medically excused.
Megan Bacigalupi, an Oakland Unified School District parent and the executive director of Open Schools California, said districts should first require all employees to be vaccinated first, as Los Angeles Unified has done.
âThe primary burden in schools and society should be on adults getting vaccinated because of their risk of getting sick,â she said. âWeâre asking children to shoulder the burden.â
The Oakland Unified School District and most other districts in the state are following the guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, which require teachers and staff to be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
Yee said a vaccine requirement for all adults and students would be ideal, but he said it would require bargaining with the teacher and staff unions.
âI would personally love that,â he said. âRequiring vaccinations for adults might be the next step, but I wanted to move forward with something thatâs cleaner and clearer.â
Many public health experts agree with Bacigalupi.
âIn this case, I donât see the logic in having one set of standards for one school sub-population alongside a different standard for another sub-population,â Noymer said. âEspecially given that the students have the stricter standard, while the adults are the ones who are more at risk of symptomatic disease.â
Responding to local needs
The San Francisco Unified School District, another large urban district, will likely not need a vaccine mandate for students, said Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez. According to the cityâs COVID-19 vaccination data, 90% of all residents between 12 and 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
âThe reason why weâve been safer in combating the pandemic is because of vaccinations,â Lopez said. âItâs helped our staff get back to school. Itâs the one thing that shifted our entire approach to COVID.â
At San Diego Unified School District, the stateâs second-largest district with close to 100,000 students, Board President Richard Barrera said the district is ânot quite ready to discuss vaccine mandates for students.â
But Zachary Patterson, a student board member and a senior in the district, said he believes the science is clear behind vaccines.
âI would support any resolution brought forth,â he said. âAs we see LAUSD moving in this direction, it definitely paves the way for smaller school districts to consider things like that.â
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