Fourteen-year-old Allison Cunningham rushed to get her vaccine as soon as she became eligible for her shots.
But when she started her first year last month at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, she found that many of her classmates had not been so eager.
“People we don’t know will sometimes sit and eat lunch with us,” Cunningham said. “And it’s kinda awkward to ask, ‘Are you vaccinated?’”
Cunningham can interact with new classmates with more confidence now that the Los Angeles Unified school board voted Thursday to require all eligible students ages 12 and older to be vaccinated by Dec. 19.
“I’m pretty excited about it. I’m glad we’re taking this step,” she said. “I feel more comfortable hanging out with people who are vaccinated.”
Los Angeles Unified is the first major school district in the nation to require vaccines for students. But the move from California’s largest school district won’t have an immediate ripple effect. While some California districts have already started considering a vaccine mandate for students, the conversation hasn’t started at others.
“We have so many kids in our district,” Cunningham said. “I think it’s our job to make it safe to come to school.”
No statewide momentum yet
Los Angeles Unified’s mandate requires that all students 12 and older receive their first dose by Nov. 3 and their second dose by Dec. 19, with earlier deadlines for students participating in in-person extracurricular activities. Younger students must be fully vaccinated within eight weeks of their 12th birthdays.
Los Angeles Unified isn’t the first district to require vaccines for students.
Neighboring Culver City Unified issued a vaccine mandate in mid-August. Less than a week later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and older.
But as schools reopened statewide, no other districts in the state required vaccines for students.
“Some districts may hesitate because they feel it’s intrusive,” said Troy Flint, spokesperson for the California School Boards Association. “Some may feel that it’s too politically charged. Others may feel they’ve been able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through other measures.”