New Orleans residents prepare for school to make vaccinations mandatory for children under 5

In New Orleans, parents of children 5 years of age and older are preparing public schools to require the coronavirus vaccine starting early next month, weeks before the city’s Mardi Gras celebration.

New Orleans will be one of the first cities to enforce the vaccine requirement for school-age children when the order goes into effect on February 1.

As the deadline approaches and Covid-19 cases nationwide increase amid the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, parents express mixed feelings about taking their young children away. vaccination.

The mandate, which grants exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons, is troubling some parents who aren’t ready to vaccinate their little ones against the coronavirus, or don’t want them vaccination, while others welcomed the news as a public health measure that could slow the spread of the disease.

Te Smith, 35, an educator in New Orleans and a father of two young children, said his oldest child will turn 5 at the end of February, just weeks after the mandate goes into effect.

He said he believes many parents in New Orleans are “a bit worried about that, especially if you’re talking about underserved schools, given the mix of information and confusion surrounding vaccines.” ask for.”

Smith said he wants to do more research before committing to vaccinating his children.

“Part of me as an educator, yes, I think she should understand that,” he said. “But then the parent in me was like, no, I think we should sign up for the exemption until we see what happens to the rest of the country.”

Smith also said he was concerned that schools could become lax in other mitigations once children are required to be vaccinated.

“As a parent, I want her to be safe. I want her classmates to be safe. But I was also extremely scared. I was appalled at what could be done to her tiny body. I also fear the lapses that can come from having a class vaccinated,” he said.

Because his daughter is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, “that gave me some time to dig a little deeper and explore a little bit about how I’m feeling and what I feel might be options.” best, best decision for her,” Smith said.

Efforts to vaccinate young children have slowed since Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine was approved for emergency use in 5 to 11 year olds in October. Only 28.6% of children in that age group had received at least one injection on January 20, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 19 percent received both doses. In Louisiana, less than 5 percent of children ages 5 to 11 received two shots on January 12, according to one Analysis by Kaiser Health News CDC data.

Low vaccination rates set off amid a highly contagious omicron variant have forced some schools to quarantine large numbers of students or switch to distance learning when teachers, students, and support staff become infected.

“The health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff remains a top priority,” NOLA Public Schools said in a statement to NBC News on Thursday. The district said it was “committed to following science and ensuring a safe school environment by requiring students age 5 and older to be immunized by Tuesday, February 1,” based on the advisory. by medical advisors, Louisiana Department of Health and CDC’s.

Schools will require parents to provide proof of immunization or access that information through the health department’s immunization information website.

New Orleans public schools tracked 1,402 Covid cases and reported 4,305 students and staff under quarantine as of Friday, according to District Covid dashboard.

“It is essential that we comply (with a mandate) so that our students can make the most of the second half of this school year and to protect themselves and their loved ones and their futures. “, Director Henderson Lewis Jr. said at a school board meeting on Thursday night.

However, under state law, families can request an exemption from vaccinations for philosophical, religious, or medical needs by filling out a form and submitting it to their child’s school. All waiver requests are approved.

Henderson admits that parents can “easily give up vaccines for their children.”

“But,” he added, “we all know that vaccination is the best way to stop this pandemic in its tracks.”

The school district did not respond to a question about how many parents had requested an exemption.

School vaccine mandates, like other public health measures taken during a pandemic, have become a divisive issue. As many as 17 states have banned the mandatory vaccination of K-12, according to National Academy of State Health Policy. But the mandates are also not being carried out in states that don’t ban them.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which has said it will require students 12 years of age and older to be immunized by January 10, does not currently plan to begin enforcing the order until the fall.

The missions, like those in New Orleans, have the support of public health experts.

“It is quite clear that greater use of vaccines is one of the best weapons for our public health, during this period of time,” said Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. this”.

He said schools around the country have had to close or travel remotely “because they don’t have enough teachers or their bus driver is sick and you can’t really have a school function.”

“It’s disruptive, obviously not only on a health level, but it’s frustrating for all the families who have to take time off work or those in quarantine,” he said. “So any steps that we can take, including the mandate to vaccinate, to enhance the public health situation will also help address these economic problems.”

Amy Tullos Cannon, who has two school-age children, said she asked for an exemption from vaccinations for her 10-year-old daughter, who attends a charter school in New Orleans. The other is at a private school that doesn’t have an upcoming Covid vaccine mission.

“I’m not against vax in any way, I just don’t think anyone, up to this point, can give me any assurance that vaccines are safe for children,” she said. speak.

Tullos Cannon said she was “disappointed” to hear about the vaccine policy because children rarely get very sick or die from the virus.

“I don’t think the danger posed to them requires a mandate, a request. That should depend on the parent and the doctor treating the child,” she said.

Children don’t die from Covid at the same rate as older adults, but they can still get sick, need hospitalization, and thrive. multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

And cases in children have increased with the increase in omicrons. The American Academy of Pediatrics said on Tuesday that nearly 1 million Covid cases were reported in children in the United States last week.

Tullos Cannon said she has tried to inform other parents who do not want their children vaccinated about the waiver form.

“If we hadn’t been vaccinated, I would have been fully prepared to get her out of school and into home school,” she said. “I feel that strongly about it.”

Jon Valant, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said vaccine requirements such as those prescribed in New Orleans schools change the culture that pushes people towards vaccinating their children such as default.

“I think what these mandates do, even with the more generous exemptions, is they change that and they do it expecting to be told by the media that you’re going to give it a shot,” he said. room for my child,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, if a family tries not to get their child vaccinated, they will find a way in Louisiana to do it,” said Valant, who is also director of the Brown Center for Education Policy at Brookings , said. Organization.

Given how politically motivated and polarized the nation’s childhood immunizations are today, asking for an exemption could now be “the best of both worlds” by replacing changing standards and expectations around vaccinations, “but at the same time, allow for the fact that there are divergent views on this and some parents really don’t want their kids vaccinated right now.” hour. “ New Orleans residents prepare for school to make vaccinations mandatory for children under 5

Jake Nichol

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