Once COVID-19 vaccines are available to children, Los Angeles students will have to be immunized before they can return to campus, Supt. Austin Beutner said Monday.
He did not, however, suggest that campuses remain closed until the vaccines are available. Instead, he said, the state should set the standards for reopening schools, explain the reasoning behind the standards, and then require campuses to open when these standards are achieved.
A COVID-19 vaccine requirement would be “no different than students who are vaccinated for measles or mumps,” Beutner said in a pre-recorded briefing. He also compared students, staff and others getting a COVID-19 vaccine to those who “are tested for tuberculosis before they come on campus. That’s the best way we know to keep all on a campus safe.”
On Monday, county officials said vaccines could be available for teachers and other essential workers who are slated to be part of the next phase of immunization. Those shots could begin as soon as early February, provided that there are sufficient doses.
Student vaccinations, however, are probably many months away. The two vaccines that have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration so far were tested almost exclusively in adults. The clinical trial of the shot made by Pfizer and BioNTech included 153 16- and 17-year-olds, and some of the experts who reviewed the data for the FDA said there weren’t enough teens to determine whether it is safe for that age group, let alone for younger children.
Children and young adults also are likely to be among the last to be vaccinated because they face a lower risk for a severe case of COVID-19.
After staff are vaccinated, Beutner said, he hoped all students would be vaccinated “by this time next year.”
Families who don’t want their children to take the vaccine “will always have the option for a child to stay in online learning and therefore not have to go back to campus,” Beutner said.
Some teacher union leaders have urged that campuses remain closed until either teachers are vaccinated or levels of infection drop dramatically.
L.A. Unified last week released alarming data from its internal testing program: Nearly 1 in 3 asymptomatic students from some lower-income communities who sought a coronavirus test at a district-operated site during the week of Dec. 14 turned out to be infected. At the time of the test, the children reported feeling no effects of COVID-19. Asymptomatic carriers can still spread the virus to others and might later develop symptoms.
Though a vaccine would protect teachers, infected children could pass the virus around among themselves even if they show no signs of illness. It’s also possible that vaccinated teachers — who would be protected — might still be able to carry the virus home to unvaccinated members of their households.
Officials are hopeful that virus transmission on campus would be limited by strong safety measures, including physical distancing, improved air filtration and wearing face coverings.
In their push to reopen closed campuses, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond have recently cited research suggesting that strong campus safety protocols can be effective in limiting the spread of the virus.