Credit: Phil Roeder/Flickr

As we near the end of August, we are seeing more school districts in California open for full-day instruction. We should celebrate this return, knowing that distance learning has had a negative impact on the mental health of students.

Still, how we open schools will determine how safe this year will be.

How will we feel about another year punctuated with closures and reopenings and moves from distance to hybrid to in-person and back again? How will we feel seeing family members and students get sick from Covid knowing that the worst outcomes were preventable?

The choices we make now around precautions can determine the fate of our children’s education and our community’s safety. Luckily, we are holding the most powerful card in the deck — a safe and effective vaccine. The question is: Will California mandate vaccinations in time to make a difference?

Let’s consider where we are today compared to where we were in the spring of 2021 when we opened schools partially. In my home county of Alameda, the Covid case rate is 22 per 100,000 as of Aug. 17. When we reopened in spring 2021, the rate was about 5 per 100,000. A study from England gives us a sense of how the community case rate can impact school outbreaks. In this study of roughly 928,000 students, they found that for every 5 new cases per 100,000 people, there was a 72% increased likelihood of a school outbreak (and this was prior to the delta variant).

To put it another way, we are currently seeing roughly four times the number of cases compared with last spring. Meanwhile, we are attempting to reopen schools at full capacity despite a more infectious variant and knowing full well that a higher community case rate will lead to more outbreaks.

This means we should take more precautions than we did last spring. Last spring — in Oakland, for example — we opened for partial days on a hybrid schedule with no indoor eating. This fall, however, we are opening for five full days per week at normal enrollment numbers with indoor eating. That’s why, in addition to mandatory masking, requiring vaccinations for all eligible students is critical.

But aren’t we doing well with vaccination rates? The Alameda County Department of Public Health data dashboard shows that 73.3% of Alameda County residents over 12 years old are fully vaccinated, but when we break down the data, we see how much work remains. Currently, only 57.9% of 12- to 15-year-olds are fully vaccinated. (Children under 12 are not currently eligible.) And we are seeing racial disparities, with vaccination rates of African Americans and Latino residents lagging behind. These rates of vaccination are much too low given that experts are now saying that we need to reach a 90% vaccination rate to manage the spread of the delta variant.

So, what’s stopping people?

It is important to acknowledge that people of all backgrounds have concerns about vaccine safety. No one can guarantee that there won’t be some unforeseeable side effect in 10 or 20 years. Still, we need to weigh those fears of potential harm against what we know for certain — millions of people have safely received the vaccine and are now protected against the very real and very deadly risk of Covid. Furthermore, as the pandemic continues, we see over and over again how the communities of color and working class communities bear the brunt of the economic, social and human costs of the pandemic.

Instead of wavering based on concerns about the vaccine, California must act decisively based on what we do know about vaccines: First, they are effective against the worst outcomes of Covid. Second, they will reduce community transmission rates, which is necessary to safely reopen schools.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently mandated vaccination for all staff and teachers at schools, but we must go further. The state of California should require full vaccination for those 12 years and older. Rather than regret that we didn’t do enough, let’s play our vaccine card now.

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Young Whan Choi is a parent and the manager of performance assessments for the Oakland Unified School District.

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  1. Joana 1 month ago1 month ago

    Delta variant can spread as fast as the chicken pox. I would not risk my children going to school. They are vulnerable because they’re unvaccinated. Besides, there is no evidence yet that these vaccines are safe for young ones.

  2. karin 1 month ago1 month ago

    Sara raises excellent points. We should all be concerned about the Delta variant and these unvaccinated children. Sara correctly raises a concern that even though she herself is vaccinated and therefore has some good protection, she may not have sterile immunity. This means that despite her own protection against Covid/Delta/Other variants, she may still be able to harbor covid and give the disease to her students and loved ones.

  3. Heather 1 month ago1 month ago

    NO. It’s not even FDA approved and now they’re delaying moderna pediatric trials/approval while they’re investigating it causing heart inflammation in young males. Get yourself a vaccine and mind your own business.

    Replies

    • LC 1 month ago1 month ago

      Heather, you do understand that the risk of severe myocarditis that comes with some Covid infections in children, including those who develop MIS-C, is statistically much higher than the tiny number of post-vaccination _mild_ myocarditis found post mRNA vaccination? So far, just in the US, we've fully vaccinated more than 10 million 12-18 year olds, and twice as many 18-30 year olds with mRNA vaccines. The number of mild myocarditis symptoms, which almost … Read More

      Heather, you do understand that the risk of severe myocarditis that comes with some Covid infections in children, including those who develop MIS-C, is statistically much higher than the tiny number of post-vaccination _mild_ myocarditis found post mRNA vaccination?

      So far, just in the US, we’ve fully vaccinated more than 10 million 12-18 year olds, and twice as many 18-30 year olds with mRNA vaccines. The number of mild myocarditis symptoms, which almost universally resolve within days with little to no supportive care required, reported to VARES number in the hundreds for these age groups. Every peer reviewed, expert virology, infectious disease, pediatric, and vaccine safety panel that has looked at the data to date has concluded that the benefits of vaccination _far_ outweigh the risk, and that the risk to children in contracting the virus itself is far greater for a whole host of complications, both short and long term, up to and including death. It’s important that we examine the data here relative to the significant risks associated with the disease these vaccines prevent & or mitigate severe disease outcomes on substantially.

  4. Sara Johnson 1 month ago1 month ago

    Ok, but what about us elementary teachers? My 32, yes, you heard it correctly, 32 students are 9 and 10 = no vaccine. My kids are on top of each other. Are we collateral damage I want to ask whoever is in charge? My husband still has a neurological disorder, and this variant could kill him, vaccinated or not. I can carry this virus even though I'm vaccinated. What about … Read More

    Ok, but what about us elementary teachers? My 32, yes, you heard it correctly, 32 students are 9 and 10 = no vaccine. My kids are on top of each other. Are we collateral damage I want to ask whoever is in charge?

    My husband still has a neurological disorder, and this variant could kill him, vaccinated or not. I can carry this virus even though I’m vaccinated. What about my students? What if I give them COVID variant. I haven’t been teaching over 28 years to kill my students.

    This country is so messed up. California does not care about the children. California cares about parent going back to work and the economy. I don’t understand WHY parents let these unvaccinated kids come to school. I would not send my children if unvaccinated. I am so angry and disgusted. It feels like the last straw in a myriad of other ways our public school system sucks.