Published Nov. 12, 2021
BY EMMA BROWN
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Oct. 1 that pursuant to full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, California students ages 5 and older will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but despite an unclear timeline for the vaccine’s approval, community member opinions in Carmel Unified School District illustrate the dichotomy between those in favor of the proposed mandate and those against it.
As of Oct. 29, the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine has received full approval from the FDA for those ages 16 and up, with the shot currently under emergency use authorization for people ages 5 through 15.
“The FDA authorized the use of Pfizer for emergency use for ages 5 through 11,” Monterey County Health Officer Dr. Edward Moreno told The Sandpiper. “According to the California Department of Public Health, the COVID-19 vaccine requirement will take effect at the start of the term following full approval of that grade span, to be defined as Jan. 1 or July 1, whichever comes first.”
Despite an uncertain time frame, local parents have voiced concern over the mandate following the governor’s announcement.
“We’ve told concerned parents, “Don’t panic and pull your kid out of school,’” CUSD superintendent Ted Knight said in an interview with a Sandpiper reporter. “Nothing’s going to happen until at least January, and even if it were to go into effect then, families would have personal belief and religious exemptions.”
Should the law pass, without full immunization against COVID-19, students would be unable to attend all schools in California, as the proposed mandate will affect all educational institutions.
“The options for unvaccinated students are homeschooling or independent study,” says Esmerelda Montenegro Owen, the communications and public relations officer for the Monterey County Office of Education. “In some school districts, students will have to receive their education completely independently, but in other districts where they have funding available, they might be able to provide instructors to do Zoom meetings.”
While homeschooling is an option for families, the process towards receiving approval to provide instruction at home is complex.
“It’s a process through the California Department of Education,” explains Jessica Hull, director of communications and community relations for CUSD. “Families interested in homeschooling need to start pursuing that option soon in order to get the systems in place. There’s a deadline for next year, and if you don’t have it done by a certain time, you cannot homeschool your child.”
In the face of complex issues surrounding the vaccine mandate, the majority of Carmel High students maintain that the legislation will be beneficial.
“People should get vaccinated,” says senior Darrell Wang, who is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. “I support the vaccine mandate because I think people should consider the whole, as opposed to the individual, when it comes to issues that affect so many people. If everyone at school got vaccinated, imagine all the opportunities that would open up for us.”
Other students urge their peers to examine the science behind the vaccine, attempting to reassure their classmates that the inoculation is safe and well-tested.
“I think that a lot of people’s issue with the vaccine is political,” junior Athena Wilson says. “People really need to understand that their worry that it might have been developed too quickly or it’s not tested thoroughly aren’t necessarily founded. It’s just like every other vaccine that you recieve.”
But the issue of mandatory medical care has caused some of those in favor of the vaccine to oppose the proposed legislation.
“I’m a fully vaccinated person who endorses getting vaccinated, but free will is important,” says freshman Scarlett Wennerholm, who has received both shots of the coronavirus vaccine. “As a pro-choice woman, I am against mandating what other people do with their bodies, even though I think, for the health and well-being of everybody, people should be getting vaccinated. Ethically, I can’t support forcing health care on another person.”
The demographic of students who support the vaccine, but oppose mandatory vaccination continues to urge their classmates to receive the inoculation, despite their reservations about the proposed legislation.
“You’re purposefully putting yourself and other people in danger by not getting the vaccine, and that’s not a smart choice to make,” says senior Anjeni Gilliam-Salman, who is fully vaccinated. “But there will always be a sprinkling of people who make stupid decisions, and that’s up to them.”
Whether they are comprehensively against vaccines or disagree solely with the COVID-19 vaccine, some members of the Carmel community have reservations about the shot, opposing its approval entirely and refusing inoculation.
“I know a lot of people are saying that they’re getting pushed closer to the edge about their vaccination status,” says senior Taite Yard, who opposes the COVID-19 vaccine, but has received other inoculations. “They’re getting a fake vaccination card, and that’s what I would do. I completely disagree with it. It’s being forced upon me. I think a lot of people would do anything that they had to do to get around it.”
Groups of those opposed to the coronavirus vaccine mandate participated in protests on Oct. 18, with many parents taking their children out of school in an act of dissent against the governor. In Carmel, like-minded individuals met at Earthbound Farms to discuss their issues with the impending legislature. Students such as Yard participated in a walk-out, leaving classes in protest of the mandate.
Though many CUSD parents have been vocal in their opposition to the coronavirus vaccine on social media, when asked for comment by the Sandpiper staff, all requests were declined. Other members of the community worry about the impact that the vaccine may have on children and are against the mandatory inoculation of young students.
“We don’t know the long-term effects,” says CHS junior Nikki Benak, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but maintains that she would not have received the shot if it were not for external pressure from friends and family. “We don’t know how that’s going to affect children later in life. It could harm them because they’re still developing.”
To be enrolled in California schools, students in seventh grade and above must have already received tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis boosters (TDAP), as well as be inoculated against chickenpox. To enter kindergarten, students must have received TDAP, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), hepatitis b, and varicella vaccinations. All of the aforementioned innoculations do not allow for personal belief or religious exemptions and are thus required for all students, barring a medical exemption issued by a doctor.
In the absence of legislation enforcing the COVID-19 vaccination mandate, personal belief and religious exemptions would still be available, so while the vaccine may receive FDA approval, laws would need to be passed in order for the state to remove the option for families to decline the shot.
As the FDA continues to examine the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine on children, legislative measures are in production behind the scenes, though it remains to be seen if and when the proposed mandate will go into effect.