The head of the country’s second-largest teachers union said Sunday that COVID-19 vaccines should be required for educators before they return to the classroom.
“As a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers, not opposing them, on vaccine mandates and all their vaccine policies,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The union honcho said vaccine mandates have become necessary to protect students who are too young to be inoculated — especially now that more children are being hospitalized amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
“The circumstances have changed,” Weingarten said. “It weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated.
“I felt the need … to stand up and say this as a matter of personal conscience,” she said.
Kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are eligible to receive the two-shot Pfizer vaccine. That immunization, plus versions from drug-makers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are available for those ages 18 and older.
Kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are eligible to receive the two-shot Pfizer vaccine.Getty Images
Weingarten pointed out that vaccine requirements wouldn’t be new to schools.
“Since 1850, we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools. It’s not a new thing to have immunizations in schools,” she said.
“Vaccines are the single-most-important way of dealing with COVID.”
She added that around 90 percent of teachers who are members of the union have already been vaccinated against COVID-19. The union says on its website that it has 1.7 million members in the US.
The National Education Association, which is the nation’s largest teachers union with a reported 3 million members, says on its site that it “encourages widespread use” of coronavirus vaccines.
Randi Weingarten pointed out that vaccine requirements wouldn’t be new to schools.Rod Lamkey – CNP / MEGA
In the Empire State, teachers have pushed back against potential vaccine requirements.
“We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one,” said the New York State United Teachers union in a statement.
“We would support local efforts to encourage more vaccinations, such as through programs that require that those who are not vaccinated get tested on a regular basis.
“But it’s critical that districts come up with plans to make testing available on-site and at no cost. What we have not supported is a vaccine mandate,” the local union said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week floated the possibility of implementing vaccination mandates for educators if the fall brings rising COVID-19 cases.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the possibility of implementing vaccination mandates for educators if the fall brings rising COVID-19 cases.AP
“Mandatory vaccinations for teachers if the numbers go up,” he said.
For now, Cuomo said, he believes that local school districts in areas with high case positivity rates should require their teachers to get vaccinated or face regular testing.
“I believe school districts should say today, ‘Teachers, vaccine or test if you are in a CDC high-risk area,’ ” he said. “I think they should say that today, to the teachers, in this current situation.”