While children becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus is exceedingly rare, it is imperative for teachers to be vaccinated in order to keep schools open and add an extra layer of protection for their students, especially those who are immunocompromised or who are ineligible for the vaccine. Yet vaccine mandates for adult staff have been slow to reach into classrooms.
Mandating teacher vaccines makes sense for reasons beyond the obvious protection they offer against this deadly virus. Over the last year, research has shown that “School personnel have been the source of many campus outbreaks.” These outbreaks among unvaccinated teachers have led to countless preventable infections. In August, an unvaccinated California teacher infected half the students in their classroom. The first school to close in New York City this year was due to an outbreak exclusively among staff. With outbreaks and infections come quarantines and school closures. Unvaccinated teachers are contributing to schools being closed.
Vaccinated teachers not only significantly reduce their own and their students’ chances of contracting COVID, they also reduce the need for quarantines — the most disruptive COVID protection strategy there is. Nationwide, students and classrooms are being forced into quarantining, interrupting a much-needed school year for students who have been out of the classroom for 18 months.
Granted, vaccine mandates have potential drawbacks. The one of greatest concern has to do with potential staff shortages due to vaccine resistance. Despite popular opinions to the contrary, vaccine resistance transcends partisan and demographic differences. You will find anti-vaxx protests in New York City, just as you will find them in Texas. It doesn’t matter whether a teacher gets their vaccine misinformation from Robert Kennedy Jr., Tucker Carlson, Black Lives Matter or Nikki Minaj. It’s still misinformation.
Vaccine-resistant school staff could create an employee shortage among teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, etc. However, the recent experience of New York City’s vaccine mandate suggests that once everyone has had a chance to complain, they will move on and get vaccinated.
The coronavirus vaccines are the greatest scientific achievement of my lifetime. For a disease that has devastated the world with over 4.5 million deaths, we miraculously developed a safe and effective vaccine in record time. To anyone who still doubts the safety of the vaccines, the dean of Brown University’s school of public health, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, reminds us,
The data is in. We’ve vaccinated nearly half of all humanity (3.4 billion people). The vaccines are safe.
We are beyond privileged to live in the United States, where access to a life-saving vaccine is available on nearly every corner. Vulnerable citizens in developing countries would do anything to have their shot at the vaccine that our citizens take for granted.
This is why I am so puzzled by the Biden administration's lack of urgency on enforcing vaccine mandates for teachers. While the president had no problem threatening private companies to force their employees to be vaccinated, he only passively encouraged teachers to be. Likewise, Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, has been more focused on fighting trivial culture wars over masks, rather than doing what actually works and requiring teachers to be vaccinated.