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San Diego Unified may mandate COVID vaccines by Dec. 20 for staff and eligible students

Two students receive a Pfizer vaccination at Rady Children's Hospital in May.
Jerardo Velazquez, 12, from Imperia Beach, watched as his sister, Isabella Moreno, 15, received a Pfizer vaccination from Dr. Lauren Kearney at Rady Children’s Hospital in May.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego Unified School Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to require full COVID-19 vaccination for all staff and students age 16 and older by Dec. 20.

The board will meet virtually via Zoom at 5 p.m. to discuss the mandate and other topics. People can sign up to give public comments by 1 p.m. by registering at the district’s Zoom link.

The district’s proposal would make full COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students when the vaccine is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration for their age group.

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Currently the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is fully approved for people age 16 and older. It has emergency authorization approval for children age 12 to 15.

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced results that show its COVID vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11, and the companies are pursuing emergency authorization approval for that age group.

Students under 16 would be required to test regularly for the coronavirus until a vaccine is fully approved for their age group.

Students would have to be vaccinated as a requirement for attending school in person. Those who do not comply would be required to do remote learning, via independent study, according to the proposal.

Medical exemptions would be allowed. Personal belief exemptions would not be allowed, the district said.

Students may be “conditionally enrolled” in in-person learning if they are in a disadvantaged group, such as if they are homeless, have disabilities, or are military or foster youth, San Diego Unified said.

The mandate also would make full vaccination against COVID a requirement for employment with the district by Dec. 20. The district would be able to fire or otherwise discipline employees who don’t comply.

About 65% of San Diego Unified students 12 and older have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, the district said; 57% have been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile about 81% of San Diego Unified employees have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, while 76% are fully vaccinated.

In its recommendation for a vaccine mandate, San Diego Unified cited testimony from seven UC San Diego experts who support a mandate.

A vaccine mandate would reduce COVID spread in schools, reduce chances of kids bringing COVID home to their families, and help protect children from getting sick with COVID or with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a related serious condition, experts said.

A mandate also would help to achieve herd immunity in the community, experts said.

“FDA approval comes with extensive safety checks and the risk/benefit ratio clearly favors vaccination over the risk of symptomatic COVID infections, multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and community spread,” said Kimberly Brouwer, infectious disease epidemiologist at UC San Diego, as quoted in the district’s proposal. “This decision would be in line with existing, non-COVID vaccine requirements school children already meet for school and public health safety.”

A vaccine mandate would also help keep more kids in school, learning in person.

Asymptomatic students and staff who are vaccinated won’t have to stay home from school if they come in contact with someone at school who tests positive for COVID, according to the state’s quarantine rules.

Several California school districts have adopted student vaccine mandates in recent weeks, including Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified and Culver City Unified.

State health officials said last week they are considering a statewide COVID vaccine mandate for students age 12 and older.

School vaccine mandates are not new. California schoolchildren already must get vaccines for such diseases as chickenpox, polio, hepatitis B and others to enter kindergarten. They also must have two vaccines to enter seventh grade.

Several of the region’s most vocal anti-mask groups, including Let Them Breathe and ReOpen San Diego, had said they are organizing a protest outside San Diego Unified’s headquarters at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The school board is meeting in regular session at 5 p.m., but it will hold a closed-session meeting at 3:30 p.m.

On Tuesday morning, Let Them Breathe changed its plans, saying it is moving its rally to a different date, saying that it heard on Twitter that some people are planning to potentially disrupt the rally.

Protesters who are against COVID safety mandates have disrupted several government board meetings across the state in recent months.

Earlier this month, protesters against masks and critical race theory forced their way into Poway Unified School District during a school board meeting that was not open for in-person public attendance, causing the district to shut down its meeting under advisement from law enforcement.

Let Them Breathe is a San Diego group that has sued the state over its school mask mandate.

It has started another initiative called Let Them Choose, which is leading the opposition against San Diego Unified’s proposed vaccine mandate.

Last week Let Them Choose sent a letter to San Diego Unified leadership arguing that individual school districts or school boards don’t have the legal authority to mandate a COVID vaccine. The group also argues that a COVID vaccine mandate is unnecessary for students because children are less likely to get seriously sick or to die from COVID.

Although children are less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from COVID, rates of COVID hospitalization among children have been increasing recently due to the Delta variant and children make up an increased percentage of unvaccinated people.

Let Them Choose also argues that a COVID vaccine mandate would infringe on students’ fundamental right to an education by barring unvaccinated children from in-person school.

Let Them Breathe was founded by Carlsbad resident and parent Sharon McKeeman and has about 19,000 members on Facebook.

Updates

9:19 p.m. Sept. 28, 2021: This story was updated with the school board’s vote.


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