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Oakland School District passes vaccine mandate for students 12 and up

The Oakland Unified School District passed a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for students 12 and older Wednesday, despite a lack of full approval from the FDA that it is safe for children. 

The measure makes it one of the first districts, with its student population of nearly 50,000, in Northern California to pass such a vaccine requirement and follows a similar decision made by the Los Angeles school district – the second largest in the US – earlier this month. 

The Piedmont and Hayward districts also passed similar measures Wednesday.  

The resolution, which passed 5-1 with one abstention, did not include enforcement details or indicate a date for the mandate to take effect.

It was met with concern and some outrage, among parents, students and the school board members themselves. 

A teenager received a Covid-19 vaccine in Los Angeles over the summer. Its school district became the first in the state earlier this month to mandate students 12 and older get vaccinated. On Wednesday, the Oakland School District followed suit, making it one of the first in Northern California to do so

‘Why do you want to force the vaccine that is still undergoing vaccine trials,’ one speaker asked during the public comment section of the meeting, the East Bay Times reported. ‘Not you, the CDC or the FDA can make guarantees as to outcomes.’ 

‘I’m opposed to the vaccine mandate. Parents and students must have the choice whether or not to take a vaccine,’ said another, according to ABC7

Samantha Pal, the student director sitting on the Oakland board said that while many students supported the mandate, several, ‘expressed concern about alienating students and families with such a strict policy,’ the San Francisco Chronicle reported.  

Pal said a number of parents did not want their children getting shots out of fear, and that many suggested the district should, ‘provide more education on the vaccine to both parents and students, so as to help get families to a place where they feel comfortable getting the vaccine.’

There were 31 new coronavirus cases recorded in the Oakland School District over the past week, according to school figures

Currently, there are around 255 new cases per 100,000 kids aged 12 – 17, in the surrounding Alameda County

Board President Shanthi Gonzales – who abstained in the vote – said that, in particular, she was concerned it might alienate students of color, who have far lower vaccination rates than others. 

‘My concern is … sending those families a message that they’re not welcome and not allowed to come to school anymore,’ she said, according to the East Bay Times, adding that a number of students have limited health care access.

Mike Hutchinson, the only member of the board to oppose the resolution, voiced similar concerns, citing internal figures from the district superintendent that only 34 percent of African American and 55 percent of Latino students have been vaccinated.

‘I’m concerned about passing a mandate that (says) half of black and brown students can’t come to school,’ Hutchinson said, adding that the district’s remote option for students was already full.

Currently, around 80.8 percent of the students aged 12 to 15 in the surrounding Alameda County have received at least one vaccine dose

Children under 18 make up the age group with the second smallest number of confirmed infections next to the 71 -80, according to the county Health Department

Over the past week the Oakland School District recorded 31 new cases among its student body, and while there is no available data on the percentage of vaccinated students in the district, around 54 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated in the City of Oakland, according to public data.  

In Alameda County, where Oakland is located, more than 60,000 or 80.8 percent of the children 12 – 15 have received at least one dose.

Currently, there are around 255 new cases per 100,000 kids ages 12-17, and overall around 4,532 children per 100,000 under 18 have had confirmed cases throughout the pandemic. It is the age group with the second smallest number of confirmed infections next to the 71 -80 category, according to the county Health Department. 

Overall, children under 17 make up 14.5 percent of confirmed cases in California. 

Despite concerns, most of the Oakland school community supported the measure, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, and it also had the backing of the district teacher’s union, although with a push for expanded exemptions.

‘Vaccination is a must,’ said one teacher during an online rally in support of the vote Wednesday evening, ABC7 reported.   

In the overall state of California children under 17 make up around 14.5 percent of the total cases 

‘Please vaccinate and make it a mandate, it’s a simple mandate to preserve our community,’ another teacher said.     

Hutchinson, however, said it should be the responsibility of the state, not individual school districts, to impose vaccine mandates. 

‘The idea of local school boards across California deciding what’s required for vaccination to enter into school scares me,’ he said, according to the Chronicle. 

‘The failure of action is actually from the state representatives that sent this letter,” Hutchinson said. ‘It’s their failure of action why we’re in this situation. … Why haven’t they introduced legislation in Sacramento, which would provide the real solution to the problem we’re facing.’

While Gov. Gavin Newsom has held off on pushing any such mandate, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said it is considering such a requirement for students older than 12 to attend school.  

‘That conversation is part of what we’re considering as a state, but no definitive action is being made at the moment,’ he told reporters Thursday, according to the Chronicle

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