Editorial Board: It is time for a student vaccine mandate


Courtesy of Heather Back and Kaiser Permanente

The school board for Portland Public Schools is debating a vaccine mandate for students. Many students are already fully vaccinated and have their vaccine cards. Photo: Photo of vaccine card with personal info blurred

The PPS school board had planned to vote on the mandate Nov. 16, but the item was pulled from the agenda after district staff asked for an extra six months to examine the wisdom of a mandate.

In late August, the Oregon Department of Education announced that all teachers and school staff must show proof of vaccination status or documentation of a medical or religious exemption by Oct. 18, or risk losing their job. The Portland Public Schools (PPS) school board has recently been debating a vaccine mandate for students ages 12 and up.

Currently, all public school students in Oregon are required to get vaccines for Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP), Polio, Varicella, Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). The presence of other vaccine mandates begs the question, why shouldn’t vaccination against COVID-19 be required in order to attend in-person school, especially considering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has now been approved for all people ages five and up?

The Los Angeles school district has already announced a vaccine mandate for students ages 12 and up, setting a precedent for other districts.

We urge PPS to do the same. 

Feedback collected by district leaders through listening sessions on YouTube and messages submitted online have generally been favorable to the mandate. Of the more than 300 comments gathered by PPS in October, 63% were in favor of the mandate and 35% against it, according to an article by KGW8.

Students have also shown to be in favor of the mandate; on Oct. 26, over 200 students at Grant High School walked out of their classrooms in support of the potential vaccine requirement. 

We believe a vaccine mandate for students is crucial.

COVID-19 has affected many aspects of students’ lives for nearly two years. In the PPS district alone, virtual learning caused thousands of students to fall behind academically; the impact was largest on low-income students and students of color. We cannot afford to let this happen again. 

Even though the vaccine has been available for almost a year, around 36% of all Oregonians have opted out, according to Our World in Data. We recognize that some people have religious or medical exemptions, but misinformation appears to be a big driver for the large percentage of individuals that remain unvaccinated. 

Public safety shouldn’t be part of a political debate. Protecting those around us is a moral obligation. Vaccinations reduce the impacts that the virus has on our lives; it protects those that either cannot get the vaccine or are still at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to underlying conditions. 

Each day students come to school, we are forced to risk our safety. We are forced to risk the safety of those closest to us. But this risk doesn’t have to be our reality.

With a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the school board has the opportunity to protect countless students, teachers, family members and community members. The board should implement this mandate now, or we run the risk of returning to the inequitable conditions of online school.

If you have an opinion regarding this ongoing debate, please email the Cardinal Times at [email protected]