Vaccines Mandated in Public Schools

On Friday, October 1st, a statewide vaccination mandate was initiated by Governor Newsom for all students and staff who wish to learn in person. Individuals who further refuse to get vaccinated will have to experience distance learning. Students and staff alike can opt-out from the vaccine by seeking approval from the California Department of Public Health, with religious or medical conditions such as allergies or immune system being grounds for exemption. For staff, in particular, these mandates reduce the options that many had. From August to October, teachers had to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing, with both having to wear masks. With FDA approval of the vaccine, however, all teachers and staff must be vaccinated. If resistance amongst staff continues, those denied by the CDPH will have to leave their position, and those given a pass will have to continue their work from home. For our district, many of the actions and implications of Newsom's decision will not have an effect until the coming semester, and younger grades will have to wait even longer for FDA approval. Five districts in California have already chosen to implement separate vaccine requirements, with Culver City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Piedmont, and San Diego requiring the vaccination of eligible students by January. Newsom, despite the opposition of many parents, notes that the state will not prevent such efforts and urges all to take steps toward preventing future outbreaks. “We know there is no substitute for in-person instruction, but we need to do that on a consistent and sustainable basis, not an episodic basis,” the governor said during his speech. First and foremost, Newsom’s concerns seem to be mostly to end this pandemic as soon as possible; "We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it."

Newsom’s decision has stirred much controversy amongst both those in favor of blanket vaccination and those against it. Many anti-vaccination conspiracists still believe that after 10 years of development, the use of mRNA is dangerous, and that requirement of the safety measure in schools violates personal rights. This has resulted in resistance and outcry from many of those reluctant to trust science. Radicals of the opposite end conversely demand greater action, as parents and teachers alike can choose to opt out of the program by submitting a request to California health officials on grounds of religion and medical concern. Many thus believe that Newsom let many parents and teachers off the hook far too easily, and have denounced the system in similar fervor. In truth, neither side has much reason for concern. Those who wish to avoid vaccination can do so by returning to distance learning or leaving the state.

Closer to home, opinions regarding the recent declaration seem to be largely positive. In the words of one student, “I do believe that getting students vaccinated is something necessary. I had an entanglement with COVID recently, and it's nothing to joke about. We should have our students vaccinate, and this does deserve tougher action.” Even those largely in disagreement with our government in recent years find the change positive. “While I don’t like Newsom, [the mandate] is smart. I think that people should be vaccinated, though I know some people at this school disagree. People should be as safe as they can, and if they’re not, then it’s on them.” Others, however, are somewhat on the fence regarding the issue. In the words of one student, “I think that vaccines are good, but forcing everyone to get one is a bit too controlling.”

This mandate, however, is far from pertinent to us now. As it is now, only the vaccines for 16 and up have been federally approved, so said mandate only applies to members of this age group until further testing proves fruitful. For the time being, the vaccine is still available to children of ages 12 to 15, but its use will not be required until the period of emergency authorization ages into full approval, a process that many theorize will be finalized within the next few months, at which point all grades seventh through twelfth will experience the mandate in full force the following semester. Following this, kindergarten through sixth-grade classes will experience a similar wave, with, in the event of timely federal approval, all grades likely being vaccinated in California by or during the 2022-2023 school year. Seniors and juniors, therefore, will be required to be vaccinated by this coming semester, with sophomores and freshmen awaiting federal approval, either having a vaccination deadline of next semester or the start of next school year. In schools in which many students have already been vaccinated by choice, however, case reductions have been prolific. Newsom’s speech was delivered in a middle school in San Francisco in which 90% of students and staff have received the vaccine in full. Not a single case has occurred in said establishment since the full reopening of schools. In some districts in which vaccination rates are low, students have returned to full lockdown and asynchronous learning due to the raging spread of the newest Delta variant. While this case shows promise in the state's proposition, it is important to remember that while vaccination can help reduce the chances of catching and being hospitalized by COVID-19, it is no panacea. Those with the vaccine can still get sick, and studies show that the vaccine's effectiveness against infection wanes somewhat over time; however, the chances of getting hospitalized due to COVID-19 lack this effect. Thus, while vaccines are essential to keeping our students and staff safe, they should not be implemented in place of other measures.

Though we are still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination and its success have at the very least slowed the flow of hospitalized patients into overworked care facilities. Despite the concerns of some citizens of the state, at the very least students of our school are often in agreement that vaccination is essential. We will likely see this vaccine come into full effect for our students here at Bella Vista by the next school year, with younger grades still awaiting approval from the FDA. Hopefully, with this recent mandate, we can all take steps towards a semblance of true normal.

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