Head of American Federation of Teachers Signals Openness to Vaccine Mandates
The president of the most powerful teachers’ union in the United States on Thursday signaled a growing openness to coronavirus vaccine mandates for teachers, as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads across the country and millions of people unvaccinated children are about to return to class.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members across the country, said she had not ruled out support for a vaccination mandate.
“Things have changed with Delta’s rage and with the proximity of full vaccine approval,” she told The New York Times on Thursday. “Because of these two facts, we are considering all alternatives, including vaccination warrants.”
“It’s all about being North Star, how do we ensure the safety of our communities, ourselves, our families and our students? ” she said.
All three vaccines are being administered under an emergency use authorization, but the Food and Drug Administration plans to fully approve one of the vaccines – by Pfizer-BioNTech – by early next month. Fully vaccinated people are protected from the worst consequences of Covid-19, including those caused by the Delta variant. Children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated.
Nearly 90 percent of teachers and school workers nationwide are already vaccinated, and Ms Weingarten said she had focused on persuading remaining refractories amid pressure to bring children back to class.
“Until the last few weeks, we thought the way to do it was through persuasion,” Ms. Weingarten said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier Thursday. But she said she was now considering “all options.”
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, also expressed commitment to resuming in-person teaching and said any vaccine mandate should be negotiated at the local level.
“Everyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated and if they cannot, they should be tested regularly,” she said in a statement Thursday.
Employers generally have the right to require vaccination, and a growing number – from Walmart to the federal government – have started asking at least some workers to be vaccinated.
Teacher unions had been seen as a potential complicating factor in demanding vaccinations in schools, in part because some local contracts may require such a mandate to be negotiated.
But the Delta variant is increasingly creating a new urgency around the problem.
This week, the city of Denver imposed a vaccination mandate on many workers, including school workers.
In New York City, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state was considering mandating vaccines on teachers if the virus count continued to worsen. The United Teachers’ Federation, the powerful union in New York City, has called on its members to prepare for the eventual mandates, even before the vaccine is fully approved by the FDA.
The mandates of teachers do not necessarily extend to students. Although schools have long demanded that children be vaccinated against certain diseases, younger children are not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccine and so far conversations have focused on whether students may or may not have to wear masks.
Eliza shapiro contributed reports
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