Two Bay Area school districts want to force vaccines on students. Here’s what families and experts think


Proposals to make vaccinations mandatory for tens of thousands of staff and students in two Bay Area school districts are supported by health experts and many families – although some parents and students have expressed their concern.

The Oakland and West Contra Costa Unified school boards are expected to vote on the proposed mandates next week. If approved, these two Bay Area districts would become the first in northern California to do so.

The votes come after school districts closed classrooms and quarantined students in the wake of the delta variant. While children rarely fall seriously ill from COVID-19, school cases have disrupted learning just as teachers try to catch up with students, many of whom have been stranded in distance education for more than a year .

The plan to impose vaccines on school personnel is likely to be much less controversial. The West Contra Costa Unified teachers ‘union supports the proposal and many teachers’ unions nationwide have supported the mandates. But the plan to require injections for eligible students, ages 12 and older, could face further setback.

Still, many health experts have applauded the idea of ​​making vaccination compulsory for school staff and students, saying that getting more people vaccinated would make the school environment safer and less likely to be disrupted anytime it is. a student is positive.

“I think this is a very good idea,” said Dr Jeanne Noble, COVID response director at UCSF’s Parnassus emergency department, who advocated for compulsory vaccination in schools. “Children’s lives have been seriously disrupted by COVID’s restrictive policies. So I think the fastest way for them to get back to normal is with a vaccination warrant. “

Schools have long demanded that children get vaccinated against other childhood infectious diseases, and COVID should be no different, said Dr Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease physician at UCSF.

“No one complains about getting vaccinated against (measles, mumps and rubella) or tetanus or chickenpox,” he said. “So why quibble about COVID?”

But those who are reluctant to vaccinate could postpone public meetings on the issue to next week. The school board will vote Tuesday in West Contra Costa – which serves more than 28,000 students in the cities of Richmond, El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole and San Pablo, as well as in several unincorporated areas – and Wednesday in Oakland, which has 50,000 students.

One possible concern for families is that the Food and Drug Administration has granted full approval of the Pfizer vaccine to people 16 years of age and older, but has yet to do so for people 12 to 15 years old, who can get it. the vaccine under the designation of emergency use authorization. Full FDA approval for 12 to 15 year olds could arrive by the end of the year.

The November dates West Contra Costa would set for students 12 and older to get vaccinated suggest the district may anticipate approval of the youngest age group by then.

“School boards are actually in a difficult position to make these decisions before full FDA approval,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. “But I think we have enough experience to know that these vaccines are safe. And we have enough experience to know that the absence of high levels of immunization in school districts is not compatible with the safest way to do in-person learning. That’s why you’ll see more school districts making this decision.

If the Bay Area school districts approve the warrants, they will follow the Los Angeles and Culver City school districts, which recently became the first in California to require vaccination of staff and students. California will require public school staff to be vaccinated or tested weekly starting next month, but there is no similar statewide rule for students.

Students and parents in affected Bay Area schools appeared divided, with some expressing support for mandatory vaccinations and others expressing reservations.

Chelsi Guadamuz, 13, a student at Lovonya DeJean Middle School in Richmond, just received her second dose of the vaccine on Wednesday. Her father, Oscar Guadamuz, smirked approvingly after hearing about a journalist’s proposed vaccine mandate.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “It’s good.”

Orchestra teacher Rebecca d’Alessio said she was excited about next week’s vote.

“I fully support it,” said d’Alessio, adding that she believed many of her students had already adopted the vaccine. Some voluntarily share that they are vaccinated, she said.

“I haven’t heard anyone worrying about it,” she said.

But eighth-grader RayShaun Boatmon was skeptical of the school board’s proposal.

“Parents are nervous,” he said.

If approved, West Contra Costa will require staff to receive their first dose by October 3 and their second dose by October 31; students aged 12 and over should receive their first dose by November 21 and their second injection by December 19. The district would not allow staff or students to test as an alternative.

Oakland’s proposal does not specify dates when students and staff should be vaccinated and directs the district superintendent to develop a vaccination plan.

Catherine Ho and Rachel Swan are staff writers for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] [email protected] Twitter: @Cat_Ho @rachelswan

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