Update: On October 1st, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be required for all California students as early as next fall. Click here for more information.
To ensure the safety of the M-A community, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) should mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all students and staff who can safely receive it. Students who choose not to get a COVID-19 vaccination should be required to participate in the District’s distance learning option and be excluded from in-person sports and activities.
Teachers are already mandated by California to be vaccinated or get tested weekly, but a student mandate is vital for protecting the health of everyone on campus.
COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe, and effective. The Moderna vaccine, available to those 18 and older, and the Pfizer vaccine, which can be administered to those 12 and up, are FDA approved. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 380 million doses of these vaccines have been distributed in the United States.
District students are already required to be immunized for polio, measles, mumps, and other infectious diseases, with exemptions for “personal beliefs or medical conditions.” According to state law, “schools should maintain an up-to-date list of pupils with exemptions, so they can be excluded quickly if an outbreak occurs.” If the COVID-19 vaccine were to be required, one would expect that the District would follow the same rules that they uphold for other required vaccinations. Therefore, as we are in a pandemic, which is by definition more severe than an outbreak, unvaccinated students would have already been removed from in-person classes according to District policy.
Currently, our district does not have any COVID-19 vaccination requirements for students, though District Board members have considered implementing mandates for school sponsored activities such as clubs and sports. Despite this, the District has taken little action to designate the vaccine as a required immunization. Considering that one in 500 people in the US have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, COVID-19 poses a serious threat to everyone in our community.
Forgoing a COVID-19 vaccination may have been acceptable during distance learning, but in-person schooling is characterized by close indoor contact between peers. We can no longer afford for vaccines to be optional because not being vaccinated puts others at risk, and higher vaccination rates decrease the rate of infection for the entire community. According to the CDC, those who are vaccinated are eight times less likely to be infected and 25 times less likely to experience hospitalization or death.
The few students who have valid medical reasons for not getting the vaccine should be tested weekly. But through the vast majority of people getting the vaccine, vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike can be protected from the pandemic.
While our own polling suggests that M-A students favor a system that allows you to choose between vaccination and regular testing, tests are significantly less effective than vaccines at projecting and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Normal and rapid tests can produce inaccurate results when they are used incorrectly or when they are not taken within the appropriate time period after symptoms occur. Testing always follows the contraction of COVID-19, giving infected individuals time to spread the virus to others. A vaccine is proactive in the fight against COVID-19 and may keep one from getting the virus in the first place.
If the district mandates the COVID-19 vaccine, Assembly Bill/Senate Bill 130 states that unvaccinated students and those who do not feel safe attending in-person classes can enroll in online Independent Study courses through Edgenuity. In this case, students who refuse the vaccine for personal or religious reasons may be barred from extracurricular activities, sports, and in-person schooling.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) decided to require COVID-19 vaccines for all students over 12 attending in-person public school, leading the way for public school mandates as it will probably bear the brunt of legal action. According to ABC News, “Culver City is mandating that public school students get the vaccine this school year, and two San Francisco Bay Area districts are considering the same.” Regardless of public outrage, more school districts will likely follow suit, and SUHSD should be one of them.
Sometimes the pandemic feels like it’s over, but over 2,000 Americans still die from COVID-19 every day.
With any luck, as cases and deaths decrease to “little to no community transmission,” the District can more aggressively return to complete pre-pandemic school. However, this won’t come without proper vaccine mandates for students. In order to get rid of mask mandates, close classroom doors when it’s smokey outside, and have indoor dances again, we must address the pandemic head-on by requiring vaccines for all eligible students. Only then can we return to life before the pandemic.