California · COVID-19 · Education

Vaccine mandate for Calif. teachers? No action yet, but tone is changing.

Could California teachers be the next domino to fall in the push toward mandating vaccinations in the Golden State?

State lawmakers and the Newsom administration have yet to take the extraordinary step leveled at California’s health care workers, who were charged on Thursday with a mandate from the state’s public health department to get at least partially vaccinated by Sept. 30.

With students – a large swath of whom are not currently age-eligible for vaccination under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization for the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines – set to return to the classrooms and the Delta variant prompting a so-called “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” teacher’s unions are changing their tune on mandates.

At the top of the list? Randi Weingarten, the president of American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teacher union.

Weingarten, whose union resisted calls for mandating teachers be vaccinated earlier in the summer, flipped the script on Sunday during an appearance on Meet the Press.

“Vaccines are the single most important way of dealing with COVID,” she said. “Since 1850 we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools, it’s not a new thing to have vaccines in schools. And I think that, on a personal matter, as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers – not opposing them – on vaccine mandates.”

A key consideration in the shift in position? Children’s eligibility for the vaccine and rising numbers among unvaccinated.

The AFT president pointed not just to the rise in case numbers, but to young children’s ineligibility for the vaccines.

“I do think that the circumstances have changed, and that vaccination is a community responsibility and it weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated,” Weingarten said.

Friday, while touring a San Bernardino elementary school to promote California’s back-to-school season, Gov. Gavin Newsom resisted calls for a vaccine mandate for teachers.

“We’re confident in the approach we’re taking at the moment,” the governor said, arguing that mask requirements and ventilation remained sufficient.

The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union, ponied up $1.8 million to back Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall election.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.