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While Some California Parents Praise K-12 COVID Vaccine Mandate, Others Call It Premature

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A woman and an elementary school-age child walk down a leafy street.
Families pick up their children from Montclair Elementary School on the first day back to in-person learning on March 30, 2021. Most of Oakland Unified's 36,000 students have returned to schools in person this year.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Parents in California on Friday had mixed reactions to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for schoolchildren after they gain final federal approval.

Some welcomed the move as a way to keep children safe and classrooms open for learning and to try to put the pandemic behind. Others blasted the decision as premature, noting there is still no vaccine approved for children under 12 and there were more questions than answers about the potential impacts of the shots, and need for them, for youngsters.

Sarah Burwick, a lawyer in Los Angeles and parent of a soon-to-be 5-year-old, said she is fully vaccinated but that it isn’t clear at this time whether the risk to her child is greater from getting the shot or not getting it.

“I think any mandate on this vaccine for kids is way too soon,” she said. “We keep hearing the buzzwords ‘safe’ and ‘effective,’ but I think the question for kids should be: Is this necessary?”

Newsom on Friday announced a plan to have all students in grades 7-12 vaccinated by next fall once the shots gain final federal approval for everyone 12 and over. The Democratic governor said he expects the U.S. government to give that final sign-off sometime next year, and that the state would require K-6 students to get the vaccine once final federal approval comes for children 5 to 11.

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The move comes as several public school districts in the state have said they will require the coronavirus vaccine. In Los Angeles, a vaccine mandate for eligible students is set to take effect in January for the nation’s second-largest school district.

Jenna Schwartz, co-founder of the Los Angeles Unified group Parents Supporting Teachers, welcomed the state’s move after supporting her district’s. She said she believes it will prevent parents from pulling their children from public schools thinking they can avoid vaccine requirements and encourage students who are learning from home due to health concerns to return to campuses.

Newsom announces student vaccine mandate

“I think this is just a great way to back up science and back up data and say, ‘This is actually what’s best and safest for all students,’” she said. “We’re hearing from families who opposed, [saying], ‘We’re going to form our own schools.’ Well, that’s terrifying.”

Janet Meadows, whose children are in first grade and preschool, said she’d consider homeschooling her children before vaccinating them. The 41-year-old from Kern County said she’s worried about the health effects of the not-yet-approved shots for children and a potential exodus of families from public schools.

“I don’t think we know enough about the vaccine to make our children get it,” she said. “There’s just a lot of unknowns. We don’t need to rush into this right now.”

Los Angeles mother of two Jenny Monir said she feels Newsom’s mandate was made more for political reasons than public health. She predicts that parents like her, who oppose the idea of a vaccine mandate, will act by pulling their kids out of public schools.

“I’m furious. On so many levels,” she said. “We’re just pawns in an elite game.”

But some parents said they felt the time was right to require the vaccines, especially in light of widespread school closures and coronavirus cases among schoolchildren in other states. At Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, parent Adam Silverman said everyone he knows has been vaccinated without a problem.

“I’m delighted to see that we’re trying to get this health crisis under control,” said Andrew Patterson, father of an elementary school student in San Francisco. “And we have lots of other vaccine requirements. I don’t see why this one would be any different.”

But Fabio Zamora, whose eighth-grader attends the Oakland middle school, said he doesn’t trust the shot, and the state shouldn’t be requiring it for kids.

“I just think it’s a parent’s decision, you know. Period. The government in no shape or form should be having mandates like that,” Zamora said.

Amy Taxin reported from Orange County. Associated Press reporters Jocelyn Gecker and Haven Daley in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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