Should Friends Academy Enforce a Vaccine Mandate for Teachers?

Should Friends Academy Enforce a Vaccine Mandate for Teachers?

In society today, the prevalence of Covid-19 has created significant moral ambiguity around the concept of a vaccine mandate. When the Covid-19 vaccine first became available to people aged sixteen and older, many hailed it as a significant step toward Covid-19 herd immunity. However, a significant population of the general public, especially in the US, have been skeptical of the vaccine’s efficacy, as well as its possible side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, just 64.3% of the US population is fully vaccinated, which is under the national vaccination goal for 80%. 

In addition, several attempts at a vaccine mandate under President Biden’s administration and similar democratic leadership have been met with pushback by both federal courts and the general public. After being denied by federal courts earlier this year, Biden’s mandate that all 3.5+ million US federal workers be vaccinated unless they received medical or religious exemption was recently blocked by a federal court in Texas. 

While infections among federal workers remains a problem, the situation is different, however, in primary and secondary schools. Covid-19 infections in school environments directly endanger the lives of young children and adolescents, demanding attention from politicians and infectious disease experts alike. At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, infectious disease experts suggested, and state governors mandated, that masks be worn indoors in schools. Recently however, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced the end of the requirement for masks to be worn indoors, including schools. This is not necessarily a bad idea: A “pro-vaccine, anti-mask” movement for schools has become increasingly popular among the American public, as reported by Kamenetz for NPR. Arguments for this movement cite widespread incorrect mask-wearing among schoolchildren, stagnation in cognitive and linguistic brain development, and the relative inefficacy of more popular cloth and surgical masks in protection against Covid-19. 

Rather than emphasize masking in schools, which entails various downsides, schools must prioritize vaccination. For the safety of American schoolchildren, Covid-19 vaccination must be nationally mandated, with the option of religious and medical exemption, for teachers and staff. 

It is widely known that Covid-19 vaccination significantly decreases transmission rates. And according to a large UK study cited by the CDC, “most outbreak cases were associated with an index case (initial case) in a staff member.” Thus, “interventions should focus on reducing transmission in and among staff.” 

Thankfully, there are communities that have already implemented a vaccine mandate for school teachers and staff. In early fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio instituted a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff of the New York City public school system with the option of religious or medical exemption, as reported by NPR.

“Our parents need to know their kids will be safe,” said Mayor de Blasio. “They entrust us with their children. That’s what this mandate is all about.”

As a result of this vaccine mandate, Covid-19 transmission in New York City public schools has been relatively low during this school year. According to research cited in the NY Daily News, last year, as vaccines had only become available to citizens aged sixteen or older in the spring and had not been mandated in schools, 78% of Covid-19 cases in NYC schools started with an adult. However, after the vaccine mandate for NYC school teachers and staff has been implemented this year, just 35% of transmitted cases started with an adult.

To ensure the safety of fellow students, the Friends Academy administration must follow this Covid-19 vaccination plan. After learning of the optional vaccination policy for teachers and staff at FA, I have begun to feel less safe on campus. Though Friends Academy remains firm about their indoor mask policy, improper mask-wearing among students counteracts this intended purpose. And despite efforts to reiterate the importance of mask-wearing, and even discipline disobedient students, improper mask-wearing has remained a problem in our community. 

I believe that the benefits of prioritizing health and safety for schoolchildren outweigh those of personal freedom for teachers who do not have medical and religious exemption. For the health and safety of American schoolchildren, Covid-19 vaccination must be mandated for teachers and staff.