Op-Ed: Teachers & School Staff Should Be Required To Have COVID Vaccines This School Year

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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The majority of American kids will be returning to classrooms this fall, some for the first time since the pandemic began. With the Delta variant still circulating widely, many parents are understandably concerned, especially those with children too young to be vaccinated. We want our kids masked, we want classrooms to be adequately ventilated, and we want a safe amount of distance between kids.

Not only that, but we want everyone in the building who is eligible for vaccination to be vaccinated, including all teachers and staff member who work with our kids. Having teachers and staff take the vaccines—and yes, requiring them to—should honestly be a no-brainer at this point.

After all, Delta is no joke. It’s causing a huge swath of children to be infected, and it’s causing a scary number of children than ever to be hospitalized, some with very serious symptoms. Those of us with kids who are too young to be protected with a vaccine are worried not just about serious infections, but about long-term symptoms from COVID.

But requiring vaccinations is not just about our kids: teachers and staff should be protected for their own sake. I think we can all remember the days before vaccines were available for teachers. So many of them went into school buildings not knowing if they’d be adequately protected from the virus, not knowing if they’d bring the virus home to their own family members. Many of them lost their lives to this horrible virus. Now there’s a vaccine that can protect them, to protect their own families, and to protect their students.

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Where Do Teacher Mandates Stand?

To me, and many others, it seems obvious that we’d make the vaccines not just recommended to teachers and staff, but required. Yet this is American in 2021, and we know things like that are easier said than done. People have been fed a ridiculous amount of misinformation about the vaccines, and people think “personal freedom” is more important than protection from a deadly virus.

As such, there is a lot of pushback to the idea of mandating vaccinations for teachers and school staff. The CDC and the federal government are not able to mandate vaccination, but state and local jurisdictions can. Right now, the CDC recommends that teachers, school staff, and childcare workers get vaccinated “as soon as you can.” But again, the CDC is not in the business of requiring vaccinations.

Some school districts have already begun requiring teachers and staff returning to school buildings in the fall to be vaccinated, including the Denver and NYC school districts. In Denver, all schools, both public and private, are requiring this, and teachers will not be allowed in school buildings without proof of vaccination. The NYC mandate is a little different: it gives teachers the option of being vaccinated, or being subject to weekly COVID testing.

Teachers unions are, unfortunately, taking issue with some of these mandates. The NYC teacher’s union, for example, is in favor of encouraging vaccinations for teachers, but not mandating them. They do recommend that schools encourage regular testing of teachers and school staff for those who do not get vaccinated.

It’s honestly kind of mind-boggling that teachers’ unions would not support vaccine mandates, when there is so much evidence that vaccines protect teachers, and unions are all about protecting teachers. But alas, that’s the state of things right now. Some are saying that when the FDA fully approves the vaccine, it will be more possible for vaccines to be mandated, and that states will have more control in doing so.

What Do Teachers Think?

My husband is a teacher and I come from a long line of teachers. A totally unscientific survey of all the teachers I know points to the fact that teachers want the vaccine and they want everyone in the school building who is eligible to receive one.

The stats line up with this too. The CDC reports that as of April 2021, almost 80% of teachers and school staff had received at least one dose of a vaccine. And a survey conducted by We Are Teachers found that about two-thirds of teachers supported either vaccine mandates for teachers or weekly testing.

I mean, clearly teachers know the work environment they face (schools are legit germ factories in normal times), and that there’s a chance they will be exposed to COVID, even with safety measures in place.

And with the Delta variant circulating and kids entering school at a time when COVID numbers are through the roof, having their teachers—or any adults they interact with—be vaccinated, seems vitally important. It’s hard to understand why people are so opposed to something like mandating vaccination. COVID is the biggest public health emergency facing planet earth in years. Lives are being lost everyday, including kids’ lives.

This is not the time to tippy-toe around issues like this, or try to make nice. The vaccines are safe, effective, and they protect both the person who is vaccinated and the people they interact with. Mandatory vaccination for teachers and staff is the smart and compassionate thing to do, period.

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