Once children can be vaccinated for COVID-19, students in the Los Angeles school district will have to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom, according to a new statement from the district's superintendent.
Superintendent Austin Beutner made the announcement in a pre-recorded video released on Monday, first reported by the LA Times, noting that a vaccine requirement for coronavirus would be "no different than" mandatory vaccinations for diseases like measles or mumps. Beutner did not respond to a TODAY Parents request for comment about the plan.
However, since the coronavirus vaccines have only been approved for older teenagers — the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorized for use in people over the age of 16, while the Moderna vaccine has been authorized for use in people over the age of 18 — Beutner said that it's important for schools to take steps to reopen classrooms in the meantime.
In his recorded message, he said that the state of California should work to set standards for reopening all schools and require campuses to open once those standards are met. Governor Gavin Newsom said in late December that he hopes to have all California schools reopened for in-person learning by spring 2021, though distance learning will still be an option.
Dr. Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that while the country waits for information about vaccinating children, it will be effective to vaccinate teachers and other adult employees in the building. California plans on vaccinating teachers beginning in February, according to the LA Times.
"There are great benefits for vaccinating teachers," said Althoff. "We know that those teachers can be at greater risk for severe illness, as compared to those kids who were at school. Making sure that those adults are protected is important for getting kids back into school."
Another important thing about plans like the Los Angeles school district's is making sure that the distribution of vaccines is equitable nationwide to make sure that all demographics are able to access the vaccine and return to in-person learning.
"We know that the virus has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic people across our country, and equitable vaccine distribution is key," said Althoff. "Equitable vaccine distribution has to be part of the vaccine rollout plan for it to be successfully achieved."
However, since data shows that children tend to be less susceptible to the virus, Althoff said reopening classrooms could be safely managed with mitigation strategies like masking and social distancing until more information about vaccinating children is available.
"Children do best in school, and hopefully districts can create some space to allow for social distancing between now and when we have better coverage and protection in the population, which may take many months," Althoff continued. "We need to be sure that the teachers in these schools are in categories to be considered essential workers."