De Blasio: COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school teachers not off the table

FILE PHOTO: COVID-19 vaccinations in New York
REUTERS/David ‘Dee’ Delgado

Mayor Bill de Blasio isn’t taking a vaccine mandate for public school teachers off the table just yet. 

“We are looking at all options,” de Blasio said in response to a Politico reporter’s question on whether he was coming closer to issuing a mandate to teachers. “Stay tuned because we’re going to keep looking at each and every tool we need to use when we need to use it.” 

The comment comes in the wake of Chicago and Los Angeles imposing a vaccine mandate for teachers and other school-based staff as well employees at each cities’ education department.  As of now, New York City is requiring all City employees, including teachers, be vaccinated before students’ return to classrooms on Sept. 13 or undergo weekly testing. 

But critics argue the City’s current policy for teachers does not do enough to assuage fears about the coronavirus’ delta variant among parents and colleagues. On Monday, de Blasio reported 1,637 new cases of the virus based on a seven-day rolling average and 126 people hospitalized with possible COVID-19 symptoms.

So far, about 60% of all public school teachers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, de Blasio said last month. 

Last school year, public schools largely did not turn into COVID-19 hotspots but infections still occurred in and around classrooms. As the City continues to fully flesh out what health and safety protocols will look like in schools this fall, Dr. Robyn Gershon, professor of clinical epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, says requiring that teachers be vaccinated before being allowed to return to work would serve as a safety net.

In particular, Gershon added, for older educators or instructors with underlying health conditions who might be at higher risk of getting sick from the virus and not yet vaccine-eligible children.

Currently, only children 12 years old and up are eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. And out of all public school children eligible to get the vaccine only about 40% have done so, according to City officials. 

“It’s just an extra layer of protection,” Gershon said about a possible vaccine mandate. She added that parents and other teachers should view a COVID-19 vaccine as just another addition to the vaccines public school students and educators are required to get. 

And even if the risk of infection is not great, City officials and school communities should do everything in their power to protect the most vulnerable, one public school social worker told amNew York Metro. 

“Even if it’s a tiny number of cases that we can prevent through having everyone vaccinated, we should do it,” said Justin Spiro, a social worker at a public school in Queens referring members of school staff. “Our goal is, after 18 months of chaos, to make the school year as normal and as healthy as possible.”