New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the mission without consultation.
The mayor announced a vaccine mandate for all New York City Department of Education employees.
The move comes the same week that the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine.
“The FDA has announced today the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine,” said de Blasio to reporters on Monday. “This is a game-changing moment. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, to have the full approval of vaccine. We now have it. This helps us move forward and we’re moving forward with our schools with this new vaccine mandate.”
When asked if the vaccine mandates should make students, parents and faculty feel safer, spokespeople at the Department of Education directed the AmNews to the city’s press release on the mandate where Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi states, “The vaccine is both a personal defense against disease and a community defense against spread. When it comes to younger children, our defenses are their defenses. This is the right policy where it matters most—in our schools.”
The mayor already declared that there will be zero options for remote learning for the 2021-’22 school year. The city reported that about 94% of all new COVID cases in the five boroughs come courtesy of the Delta variant.
But there is some good news surrounding the Delta variant with recent health department statistics. According to the latest report, over the past 28 days, the 7-day average daily number of positive COVID cases dropped from 1,906 to 1,859 between Aug. 13 -16. The hospitalization rate remained stable with more than 80 cases.
Three-quarters of all New Yorkers are vaccinated.
DOE officials said earlier this month that schools will host open houses to show them the health measures they have taken to ensure their kids’ safety following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that he approves of the mandate, but wants to negotiate details with the mayor. He said de Blasio took no input or consultation from others, but he agrees with the basic premise.
“Our first priority is keeping our kids safe and the schools open. The city’s teachers have led the way on this issue, with the great majority already vaccinated,” said Mulgrew in a statement. “While the city is asserting its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many implementation details, including provisions for medical exceptions, that by law must be negotiated with the UFT and other unions, and if necessary, resolved by arbitration.”
Other unions had the same problem with how the mayor did things and not what he did.
“While we strongly encourage our members to get vaccinated, we do not believe that the city has the legal authority to change the terms and conditions of employment without bargaining,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “District Council 37, along with a coalition of unions that make up the Municipal Labor Committee, will file an Unfair Labor Practices complaint over the city’s failure to bargain.”
Among the many concerns with the vaccine mandate and lack of a remote option, is parents’ comfort with the operation. Some are fine with it, but others aren’t so sure.
“I am feeling pretty positive about the math,” said Inshirah DuWors, 43, a parent of three children all of whom are in middle school. “The way I see vaccines is it’s not something new that’s been mandated for students and teachers to have.” DuWors also taught preschool and first grade in her past. When asked if she would return to teaching, she said, “I’m still gonna make being available to my children the priority because even though vaccines are happening and masking is happening, I know that there will likely still be classroom closures.”
Tamara Stern, parent to schoolchildren, said that she’s still skeptical of sending kids to school no matter the vaccine, the masking or the air ventilation.
“I can’t lie and say I’m not nervous but that’s based on how overcrowded my children’s schools are and how realistically they will be able to social distance the kids,” said Stern. “The kids moving from class to class, gym and even eating lunch. We don’t know how that’s going to work when most of the schools in my district are 150% or more over capacity.”
While school staff and adults are vaccinated, children won’t be. There’s no approved COVID vaccine for children 12 years old and below and children are catching and spreading the Delta variant of the coronavirus in higher numbers. In early August, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that 92,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in kids, nationally.
The FDA has to grant emergency use of any vaccine available for kids, but won’t do so until clinical trials are conducted and data is collected and information is analyzed. There’s no timeline for when that will happen, so the mayor and the DOE are operating under the assumption that the parents of school children are getting vaccinated. Vaccine shots might not be available for children until the end of the calendar year.
Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ and head of the schools division that represents school cleaners and handypersons, said that the city must negotiate with the union for terms of implementation.
“The city and its subcontractors are within their rights to mandate vaccination for school support service workers and other employees,” asserted Aldebol. “However, they are also obligated to negotiate with the union the terms and protocols for how this requirement will be implemented, just as happens with other work requirements.”
Stern, however, may not be the type for negotiating. The mother likened the mask mandate to another issue that includes the phrase “my body, my voice.”
“I still don’t feel that the mayor should determine what adults do with their health or bodies,” said Stern. “You never know who will have a negative reaction to the vaccine. I understand the concern but again it’s not his body. Same with Roe vs. Wade.”