Staff essay: Student vaccinations should be mandatory

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Eirini Schoinas

As COVID-19 cases rise, driven by the new Delta variant, it’s necessary for students to get vaccinated.

Eirini Schoinas

With COVID-19 cases and deaths on the rise, it is time to mandate vaccines for all eligible students, especially as Oregon K-12 schools begin in-person learning.

Cases are rising across all age groups. Daily cases and hospitalizations in Oregon are currently surpassing the past peak, which occurred in the winter of 2020.  

This increase is driven by the Delta variant, which is not only more infectious, but also increases the disease severity and the risk of hospitalization compared to previous variants. 

While millions of people have received the vaccine, vaccination rates in both Oregon and the United States are still falling short, especially amongst teens. According to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) , 40.0% of Oregon residents, age 12-17, still remain completely unvaccinated, and only 51.9% are fully vaccinated. 

The vaccines for COVID-19 have been proven to be safe and effective. Hundreds of millions of people have already received the vaccine with few complications. 

Data from King County, Wash., which encompasses Seattle and has a population of 2.253 million people, shows just how effective the vaccine is. According to the data, individuals across all age groups who are not fully vaccinated are seven times more likely to become infected, 41 times more likely to be hospitalized and 42 times more likely to die from COVID-19. 

Although teenagers are very unlikely to die from COVID-19, they can still be hospitalized, which would force them to miss school, and, in some cases, may result in long-term health consequences, such as “long COVID.” Teenagers can also spread the disease to family members and teachers who are unable to get vaccinated or who are older and therefore at a higher risk of a breakthrough infection, which may result in hospitalization or even death. 

Many vaccines are already required for students to attend K-12 schools in Oregon, including the Polio, Varicella and Hepatitis B vaccines. All Oregon public universities are requiring students to be vaccinated for COVID-19, and Oregon teachers are also required to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Therefore, it’s logical to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students as well to secure the safety of faculty and students.

“If we can achieve a high enough rate of vaccination among our students, staff and faculty, we can better protect the health and well being of the members of our community and ultimately drive down the transmission rate of the disease, ” wrote University of Oregon President Michael Schill and Provost Patrick Phillips in a letter announcing their decision to require vaccinations for students attending the school.

Many Portland K-12 teachers agree it is important to vaccinate students as well.

“We were in favor of the vaccine mandate for ourselves, and teachers are very supportive of a mandate for students,” said Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, to Katu News.

The case for a student vaccine mandate is clear and well supported. In order to keep schools open, we must take measures now to prevent avoidable disease and death. If Governor Kate Brown is unable or unwilling to put a mandate in place for all of Oregon, Portland Public Schools should move to introduce its own mandate instead. 

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