After former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instituted a school...

After former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instituted a school vaccine mandate, COVID-19 transmission in city public schools has been relatively low during this school year. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

COVID-19 has created significant moral ambiguity around the concept of a vaccine mandate. This poses serious problems for schools.

When COVID-19 vaccine became available to people 16 and older, many hailed it as a significant step toward herd immunity. However, a number of Americans have been skeptical of the vaccine’s efficacy, and worried about possible side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, just 65.1% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

COVID infections in schools directly endanger the lives of young children and adolescents. At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, infectious disease experts suggested, and many state governors mandated, that masks be worn indoors in schools. Recently, however, Gov. Kathy Hochul, following new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced the end of that mask-wearing requirement.

Now that most schoolchildren and many teachers have stopped wearing masks, it is essential that we get more people vaccinated. For the safety of schoolchildren, COVID-19 vaccination should be nationally mandated for teachers and staff, with an allowance for genuine religious and medical exemptions.

It is widely known that vaccination significantly decreases transmission rates. According to a large study in the United Kingdom cited by the CDC, "most outbreak cases [in schools] were associated with an index case in a staff member." Thus, "interventions should focus on reducing transmission in and among staff."

Thankfully, some communities have already implemented vaccine mandates for schoolteachers and staff, with allowances for religious or medical exemptions. In early fall, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio instituted such a mandate in the New York City public school system.

As a result, COVID-19 transmission in New York City public schools has been relatively low during this school year. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, 78% of COVID cases in NYC schools in 2020-21 started with an adult. However, after the vaccine was mandated for teachers and staff, just 35% of transmitted cases started with an adult.

Mohan Jauhar is a senior at Friends Academy in Locust...

Mohan Jauhar is a senior at Friends Academy in Locust Valley. Credit: Courtesy

The optional vaccination policy for teachers and staff at my high school, Friends Academy, makes me feel less safe on campus. To ensure the safety of fellow students, school administrations, including my own, must mandate COVID vaccinations.

What about students? With a majority now maskless in schools, I feel even more unsafe on campus. At my high school, widespread improper mask wearing among students has now been replaced with almost no mask wearing. To combat this, I believe a vaccine mandate should be extended to students as well. Some argue that students, as minors, should not be forced to get vaccinated. But vaccines such as MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) are already mandated for students to participate in school.

Others have argued that students are at relatively low risk for COVID and that adverse effects of vaccination outweigh the benefits. However, COVID infection poses great risks to children, including MIS-C, an inflammatory condition, and long COVID. Moreover, the risk of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, from COVID vaccination is much lower than that from infection.

My thoughts probably put me in the minority in my school community. Nevertheless, I believe that COVID-19 is a serious disease that requires a serious response from schools. The benefits of prioritizing health and safety for schoolchildren trump the personal freedom of teachers, students, and staff who decide not to get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccination must be mandated for teachers, students, and staff.

This guest essay reflects the views of Mohan Jauhar, a senior at Friends Academy in Locust Valley.

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