Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

With the first few weeks of school behind us, I breathe a sigh of relief.

As a parent of two school-aged children who are too young to be vaccinated — and as medical director for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the nation — I’ve reached a new level of calm.

Like many parents across the country, and in our own school district, I worry about the rising cases of Covid-19 we’re seeing in other parts of the U.S., particularly the unprecedented number of child hospitalizations as a result of the delta variant. It makes me nervous that my children aren’t vaccinated, but I also have first-hand knowledge about how Los Angeles Unified has spared no effort in taking every necessary precaution to make sure that the 628,00 students in our district are safe.

It is for this reason that I feel calm about sending my eldest child, a second grader, to school even as I remain uneasy and unsure about a community playground where the potential for exposure to the virus could be much greater. It is much easier for me to take my child to school where I know that mitigation measures are in place.

The school district has upgraded air filtration systems across 80 million square feet of school buildings. This is important because the new system is much more effective at picking up small airborne particles and it’s closer to what one would find in a hospital. While other school districts may not be fully enforcing mask mandates, they are required essentials for everyone entering a Los Angeles Unified school campus.

As a community, we are instilling in our young people the personal responsibility that we owe one another in wearing a mask when in contact with those outside of our immediate household. Perhaps because so many of our students come from communities that have been deeply affected by the virus, we don’t need to convince them about the importance of masking up. They inherently know that wearing a mask means that together we are preventing the spread of a deadly virus and actually saving lives.

Among the many Covid-19 prevention protocols we’ve established, we’re continuously disinfecting classrooms, utilizing personal protective equipment throughout all campuses, and providing weekly testing for employees and students regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.

In addition to these precautionary efforts, interim Superintendent Megan Reilly’s recent announcement that all district employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15 of this year, puts me most at ease.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I worked in a hospital where I saw how this terrible disease affects people in ways that I’d never seen before. The virus also claimed the life of my mother-in-law in early 2020. She was among the first people in this country to succumb to this disease.

Half a world away, in New Delhi, my uncle also lost his battle with Covid. Neither of my family members had a chance against the virus because they didn’t have access to vaccines.

Vaccines are a game changer for all of us. They help reduce our chances of getting considerably sick and dying from the virus. And yet, in spite of their life-saving properties, in the U.S., some people still refuse them. We are privileged to live in a country with excess vaccines — where we allow them to expire while people in other parts of the world lack access to them.

At this time in history, we are being called to move away from our individualism and make larger sacrifices for the sake of humanity and, more specifically, for the sake of our children. The only way we can protect the youngest among us is if we vaccinate the adults and every eligible child in our household — our teens.

Adults who refuse to get vaccinated are failing all our children. In order to attain herd immunity, which many experts have estimated may be reached by vaccinating 75-80% of our population, we will next need to vaccinate young children.

As someone who believes in the power of vaccines to save lives, I can say with certainty that as soon as a Covid vaccine is made available for children under the age of 12, I will vaccinate my daughters. I encourage every parent and/or caregiver to do the same. Vaccines are our best hope for safety in schools and beyond.

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Dr. Smita Malhotra is a parent and medical director of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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