In a reversal, the head of the American Federation of Teachers said Sunday she now supports vaccination mandates for teachers before they return to classrooms this fall, to protect younger students.
“I do think that the circumstances have changed, and that vaccination is a community responsibility and it weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated,” Randi Weingarten told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning.
“Vaccines are the single most important way of dealing with COVID. Since 1850 we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools, it’s not a new thing to have vaccines in schools.”
— Randi Weingarten
“I think that we need to be working with our employers — not opposing them — on vaccine mandates,” she added. Last year, the union said vaccinations should be voluntary for teachers.
The change comes amid a serious push to return to in-person classes, with many school districts preparing to start the fall semester within the coming weeks; mandatory vaccinations for teachers could delay some of those plans.
Last week, the White House said an estimated 90% of the nation’s educators and school staff have received the COVID-19 vaccine, but many local school districts and teachers unions — as well as many unions in general — have not gone as far as supporting mandatory vaccinations for their members.
But that appears to be changing as the more-contagious delta variant spreads around the country, and more government entities and private businesses are imposing vaccination mandates for the workplace.
Weingarten’s union is the second-largest teachers union in the U.S. The largest, the National Education Association, says any vaccination mandates should be carried out at the local level, its president, Becky Pringle, told the New York Times last week.
While the Biden administration is requiring vaccinations for federal workers, it prefers that other workplace mandates take place at the state and local level, a move supported by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser.