LAUSD Board of Education may discuss COVID student vaccine mandate

A woman protests against a COVID-19 vaccine at the LAUSD Board meeting.

Access to a Covid-19 vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds could be just days away, pending the decision from an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is meeting this week to review the safety and efficacy of the lower-dose pediatric version of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine.

While some parents are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to inoculate their elementary school-age kids, other parents want to make sure they can opt-out of the shot and still send their kids to school.

These parents are asking the Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education to publicly join their effort opposing a vaccine mandate.

An Oct. 1 announcement from Governor Gavin Newsom states California students will be required to get a Covid-19 vaccine to attend in-person classes when the vaccines gain full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their age group.

Pfizer’s vaccine has full FDA approval for people 16 and older. The estimated deadline for vaccination for 7th-12th graders could be July 2022. Last week, the FDA approved emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds.

In its approval, the FDA said the vaccine was 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 and found no serious side effects among the roughly 3,100 kids in the ongoing study.

Governor Newsom said the mandate “is about protecting our children and school staff and keeping them in the classroom” and stressed “vaccines work.”

The CDC states: “Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Younger children tend to have relatively more mild cases of Covid-19 when compared to adults. Nationwide, 1.9 million children ages 5-11 have been infected with Covid-19, 8,300 have been hospitalized and 94 have died, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Board members on vaccine mandate

At recent board meetings, parents opposed to the vaccine mandate have shared their concerns.

One parent asked Los Alamitos board members to follow the Capistrano Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees, who recently approved a resolution urging Newsom to reconsider the vaccine mandate saying it would lead to families leaving traditional K-12 schools.

“So I’m asking, I think many other parents are asking, this district to consider a similar resolution,” the parent said. “All of you here, you are our local representatives. Please do something before it’s too late.”

School board members say they cannot defy statewide mandates and have suggested parents reach out to the governor and state lawmakers to have their voices heard.

Board Vice President Diana Hill said she’s been writing to Governor Newsom and state lawmakers asking them to reconsider the mandate. “Parents should have a choice at this stage, those who feel it is best for their child can get them vaccinated now, and those who have concerns should have the right to wait,” her letter states.

Hill has also been vocal about keeping the medical and personal belief exemption to the vaccine.

And in a recent interview, she supported having a public debate about the state’s planned student vaccine mandate.

“We need to have a discussion as a board about it and we need to have the public let us know how they feel,” Hill said, adding she would recommend an agenda item for a future meeting.

In an email, Board Member Chris Forehan said he would also push the legislature to ease off a mandate.

“Allow it to be a parent choice, and then, if the virus takes an ugly turn, work through a mandate (if needed),“ Forehan wrote.

Board Member Scott Fayette said he’s pro-vaccination but thinks there has to be a “more open and freer discussion” about the Covid-19 vaccine mandate. He questioned if it’s appropriate to make the Covid-19 vaccine a requirement to attend school and said he’s planned meetings with parents to hear more. “I’m figuring out what the best choice is for the community,” he said.

Parents share perspectives

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 33% of parents surveyed said they would wait and see before getting their 5-to-11-year-old vaccinated while 30% said they would not vaccinate their young kids and 27% said they’d vaccinate right away.   

“Counting the days to Ella’s vaccine,” wrote Olaina Anderson whose daughter is eleven and is at a middle school in the district. “We’ll be so relieved when she gets her vaccine– then we can all do stuff together.” Anderson said her parents are hesitant to hang out with their granddaughter while she’s unvaccinated so a jab would mean a return to normal visits.

“We’ll have our 10-year-old vaccinated as soon as it’s available. We had our 12-year-old vaccinated with zero side effects,” wrote district parent Jennifer Rohdenburg. “We feel it’s our responsibility to keep our children healthy and to help prevent the spread of COVID. As a physician, my husband believes COVID vaccines are safe and effective.”

“Our answer is simple, we will absolutely not, under any circumstances, give the Covid vaccination to either of our children,” wrote Bret Hudzietz who has two kids at Weaver Elementary. He feels the shot is too new and its long-term effects are unclear. He said he and his wife both went through Los Al schools and want their kids to do the same but said, “if need be, we will pull [the kids] out of school and explore other options, even possibly leaving the state.”

“We are not an anti-vaccine family. We are an anti-mandate without the option for an exemption family,” Rachel Sandoval wrote. She said she and her husband both got the Covid-19 vaccine and they have four kids in the district. Sandoval shared that her 15-year-old chose to get the shot, but her 13-year-old wants to wait, while her 18-year-old is strongly opposed. She said her 11-year-old will not be getting the vaccine for at least a few years. “When it is an appropriate time for our children as individuals, they will get the shot, but not by government force or social bullying.”

District parent Lisa Wallace said her 12-year-old and 14-year-old are already fully vaccinated against Covid-19 but that she’s taking a pause before getting her nine-year-old vaccinated. “We are pro-vax,” Wallace wrote, adding she is typically all in with doctors and scientific data but said after looking at the sample size for the trial of Pfizer/BioNTech, she wants more information. “I will ask my kids’ various doctors as our appointments are on the docket.”

That’s the advice OC Deputy County Health Officer Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong is telling parents. “Please, if you have not already, seek advice from a medical professional,” she said on a call with the media on Friday.

Dr. Chinsio-Kwong said she would vaccinate her elementary-school-age child as soon as possible after seeing data from the vaccine trials and some of the long-term health issues occurring in kids who had Covid. “I’d rather take the risk of any side effects of the vaccine over getting my kid sick with Covid,” she said.