Vaccines have been required for school aged children for over 150 years, with the first vaccine mandate put in place to curb the spread of smallpox in Massachusetts in 1850. In the following 50 years, almost half the states would put in place similar mandates. However, it wasn’t until when the Childhood Immunization Initiative was constructed in 1977 that federal action was taken to vaccinate school children for seven contagious diseases.
After over a year, COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available for those over the age of 18 in the spring. During the initial rollout of the vaccine to the public, finding an appointment was often difficult, as the vaccine supply had not caught up to the demand.
Now, six months after vaccines were made available to all adults in the United States, the supply is much greater than the demand. Anyone eligible, which now includes anyone over the age of 12, can walk into most major pharmacies in the U.S. and receive the vaccine for free.
Despite the easy accessibility of the vaccine, there are still millions of Americans who are refusing to get the shot. While the reasoning behind not wanting the vaccine will be different depending on who is asked, many of the popular responses go unfounded. Some claims include the belief that the vaccine will alter an individual’s DNA, or that the side effects of the vaccines are more severe than the disease.
While many of these claims can be easily debunked by a Google search, those who are still refusing the vaccine don’t seem to be budging. Countless efforts to educate the public on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine have been carried out by all levels of government and many private corporations. Some states and companies have even offered various incentives for people who get the shot. These efforts have been at least somewhat effective, as 66.4% of all Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
While the 66.4% can seem encouraging, the 33.6%, roughly 111 million Americans, who have not been vaccinated should be a cause for concern. It should be especially worrisome for those who are medically unable to get the vaccine or those with children who are not yet eligible.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state of California recently unveiled the country’s first vaccine mandate for all K-12 students. According to Newsom, the mandate will go into effect in the term following full FDA approval of the vaccine for the students’ age. The COVID-19 vaccine was added to the list of 10 other vaccinations that are required by California schools.
The vaccine mandate for students and staff will help schools stay open and reduce the need for quarantines, leading to a more consistent school schedule.
The California vaccine mandate for students was required to have exemptions for personal beliefs, in addition to medical and religious exemptions. While the definition of a personal belief exemption is very vague, it could potentially be a loophole for people to refuse the vaccine. The personal belief exemption had to be included because the mandate has not gone through the legislative process yet. After it gets approved in the legislature, lawmakers should use their ability to remove the exemption and only allow medical and religious exemptions.
Vaccine mandates have shown to be effective in boosting vaccination rates in other settings such as health care systems, major airlines and professional sports leagues. There is no valid reason why schools should not be added to this list when the vaccine is fully approved for young children.
The announcement by Newsom resulted in pushback from parents and others who are refusing the vaccine. Many students and parents participated in protests at the state capitol and other locations across the state. These protests were fuelled by the narrative that the state shouldn’t be forcing anything onto its students, and that the mandate is largely political. Others claimed the state was treating the students like “lab rats” and used the popular pro-choice slogan “my body, my choice.” The claim that students would be used as an experiment is somewhat puzzling and false since the vaccine has to be granted full-FDA approval before it is mandated, a process that requires extensive clinical trials.
Throughout the pandemic, there has been constant pushback regarding any kind of mandates, including masking, stay at home orders, gathering size restrictions and now vaccines. Those who oppose the efforts taken to curb the pandemic often claim that their civil liberties are being taken away. Despite this repetitive rhetoric, the ACLU determined that vaccine mandates do not violate civil liberties.
Vaccine mandates are not new. They are a symbol of compassion; a symbol of hope that our government is working to protect vulnerable individuals in our communities. Those who have yet to get the vaccine have had more than enough time to do so, and no more time can be spent waiting on them. The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the best route out of the pandemic, and we, as Americans, must roll up our sleeves and take advantage of it.
Claire Schad is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.