FRIDAY, Sept. 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Los Angeles has become the first major school system in the United States to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all students 12 and older.
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 reported. 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, said Megan Reilly, interim schools superintendent. Speaking about a 12th-grade athlete, Reilly said, "We owe this child his senior year," the Times reported.
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.
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, the Times said.
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 noted.
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).
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 â€” which sued to prevent mask mandates, virus testing and quarantines â€” said on Thursday that numerous legal challenges to the vaccine mandate are expected, the Times said.
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 noted.
But Angelica Ramos, 29, a mother of three public school students in South Los Angeles, told 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 said. "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, the Times said.
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 reported.
"With so many educators being parents as well, we understand that many questions and concerns exist around the vaccine," Cecily Myart-Cruz, union president, said 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."
For more on COVID-19 vaccines, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: The New York Times, Sept. 9, 2021