Yes, Let’s Mandate Vaccines for Eligible School Children, Fauci Says

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a student during a “Vax To School” campaign event at a high school on Staten Island, New York. Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg/Getty

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.A week and a half ago, a small public school district in western Los Angeles became what is believed to be the first district in the country to mandate COVID vaccines for any student eligible to get them. Culver City Unified sent letters to families of its 7,100 students advising that all eligible staff and students would have to show proof of vaccination by mid-November. 

Some states, such as California and New Jersey, already require that teachers and school staff get vaccinated for COVID or else face weekly testing. Oregon, Washington, and New York City have gone further, requiring the vaccine outright. But no state, so far, has required vaccines for students 12 and older, who are eligible for the shots.

On Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said he believed vaccine mandates for children were a “good idea”—not just for those students, but also for younger kids once federal authorities approve it. “I know that a lot of people will be pushing back against that,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Face the Nation Sunday.

Fauci said he believes the FDA and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will confirm the safety and the “strong risk-benefit ratio” of the vaccine for children. “When that gets established, which I believe it certainly will” he said, “I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea.”

“This is not something new,” he added. “We have mandates in many places in schools, particularly public schools, that if in fact you want a child to come in, we’ve done this for decades and decades—requiring polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis [vaccines].”

Children have been accounting for a larger share of COVID cases nationwide as the Delta variant—deemed roughly as transmissible as chicken pox—has swept the country in a devastating fourth wave of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Although children generally experience less severe symptoms than adults, and make up less than 2 percent of COVID-related hospital admissions, pediatric COVID hospitalizations surged this week to the highest on record, an average of 303 admitted per day. 
The Delta wave, coinciding with back-to-school season, has fueled justified fears of classroom infections. In Marin County, California, one unvaccinated elementary school teacher who attributed her fatigue and sniffles to allergies removed her mask to read a book aloud to students. Two days later, she tested positive. Subsequent testing revealed that half of her class—mostly kids sitting near the front—were infected, along with six students in another grade, and eight guardians and siblings, according to a CDC case study published on Friday. 
According to an influential COVID forecasting model from the University of Washington, an additional 98,000 people in the United States are projected to die from COVID by early December—though the number, health experts told the Associated Press, could be cut in half if everyone wears a mask in public spaces.
On Sunday, Fauci pointed out that 80 million people in the United States are eligible to receive the vaccine still haven’t gotten it. To boost the uptake numbers, Fauci encourages mandates for colleges and businesses with large numbers of employees. “What is going on now is both entirely predictable but entirely preventable,” he said, and mandates are “one of the ways that we can get many, many more people vaccinated.”
Watch Fauci’s interview here: