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LAUSD drops vaccine mandate, sparking little concern among parents, educators, doctors

Laya Albert | October 10, 2023

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Protesters hold signs about the vaccine mandate. A child's sign says Mr. Carvalho, Please let my mom return to teaching in the classroom.

Parents and educators opposed to Los Angeles Unified School District’s COVID-19 staff vaccination mandate had a rally outside the LAUSD district office in April 2022. (Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s recent decision to drop its staff vaccine mandate sparked little concern among parents and health officials as COVID-19 enters an endemic phase.

“We face vastly different circumstances,” LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “It is a decision based on scientific knowledge and current conditions, nothing more, nothing less.”

Carvalho said the vaccine mandate is no longer necessary because COVID-19 declarations have come to an end worldwide, and there are now better protocols to handle the virus.

It was a far cry from the strong reactions and controversy that erupted in 2021 when non-vaccinated teachers were laid off from their job after the LAUSD school board mandated vaccines for all school employees.

The recent decision has a significant impact on teachers, contractors, vendors, and parent volunteers. Now, these non-vaccinated teachers who lost their jobs are protesting to be re-hired.

“The science of vaccinations has not changed…the circumstances have,” said LAUSD’s chief medical director Dr. Smita Avoletra

Dr. Avolotra said COVID-19 is now in an endemic phase, meaning it is here to stay, but is not spreading at a fast enough rate to overwhelm hospitals. The virus is now as stable and predictable as other viruses, like Respiratory Syncytial virus and influenza.

Dr. Avolotra suggested school officials continue to take measures to lessen the spread of COVID-19. District officials said they would ensure schools are well-ventilated by using more than 1,600 portable HEPA air cleaning devices. Teachers will be encouraged to educate students on vaccinations, good hygiene, face masks and testing.

Desiree Amber Rivera, an English and Creative Writing teacher at William Jefferson Clinton Middle School said she trusts the board’s decision.

“I really believe in freedom of choice,” said Rivera. “…just, if you’re sick, don’t come.”

Parents of students at the 32nd Street USC Performing Arts Magnet School did not appear concerned about the changes.

“I believe no one should be forced to do something they shouldn’t have to do,” said Elizabeth Lopez, a parent of a first grader who is comfortable with her child attending school, even though teachers are no longer required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Wendy Lopez, another first-grade parent, expressed a similar opinion.

“I think that COVID has settled down,” she said. “I don’t feel that worried.”

The vaccine repeal did not have universal support from board members.

During the meeting, board member George McKenna of District 1 voted against the changes, the only member to do so.

McKenna said he knew people who died during the pandemic and that his vaccinated brother almost died from COVID-19.

“I’m just trying to be pro-safety, pro-health,” said McKenna, who believes people should continue to get vaccinated as long as COVID-19 is present.

Board president Jackie Goldberg spoke in favor of vaccines and emphasized their importance. She urged people to understand viruses are the real enemy, not the vaccines.

When it was time to vote, she voted in favor of repealing the vaccine mandate, by saying “reluctantly yes.”

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a USC Professor of Clinical Population who has over 40 peer-reviewed publications on COVID-19 and is a frequent advisor to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and World Health Organization, said the scientific consensus no longer deems the COVID-19 vaccine to be a safety requirement.

“About 99 percent of all Americans have some form of immunity to COVID, either due to vaccination or prior infection,” said Dr. Klausner.

The initial public health goal was to help prevent the spread of infection. Now, several years later, Dr. Klausner said it no longer makes sense to require vaccines from a public health perspective.

“There’s a much, much, much lower risk of severe disease being hospitalized or dying,” he said. “As the science and our understanding has changed, our policies have to change as well.”

Laya Albert is a journalism student at USC Annenberg. She has reported on many topics for the student-run newspaper, The Daily Trojan. She also works as a multimedia journalist for Annenberg Media and has a blog featured in the Times of Israel.

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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