The Los Angeles school district is not requiring students ages 5 to 11 to get COVID-19 vaccines, although the shots will be available on campus if parents want their children to be inoculated.
Students 12 and older are still required to be fully vaccinated in the L.A. Unified School District by Jan. 10, one of six schools systems in California with various versions of a student mandate.
The nation’s second-largest school system made the announcement Tuesday — the same day that U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to a smaller-dose COVID-19 shot by Pfizer-BioNTech.
“We are delighted to be able to offer voluntary vaccine access to students in this age group,” according to a district statement. “The COVID-19 vaccine is highly encouraged for children ages 5 to 11. However, it will not be part of Los Angeles Unified’s current student vaccine requirement.”
Beginning Monday, the district will roll out mobile vaccination teams for the younger students. Beginning Nov. 16, 13 school-based clinics will offer the vaccine. Some clinics will provide the vaccine on Saturdays.
“COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to protect our students, staff and families, and public schools are natural sites for our students and families to receive this life-saving vaccine,” the district stated.
L.A. Unified’s mandate for students 12 and older began to kick in this week, when high school students involved in team sports, band and drill had to provide verification of having received both doses of the two-shot regime.
About 77% of eligible students on these teams had complied. Some teams in some schools were hit hard by suddenly ineligible students.
University High on the Westside had to forfeit its City Section Division II semifinal girls’ tennis match against Hamilton High because it didn’t have enough players vaccinated. Esteban Torres High in East Los Angeles pulled out of its football playoff game Friday against New Designs Watts for the same issue.
At Taft High in Woodland Hills, officials were alerting more than 100 students for all sports that they no longer were permitted to play on teams, handing them a letter explaining the mandate, which had already been widely publicized.
The district has refused so far to release numbers to the public on the extent to which individual teams are affected at each school. The coaches, however, have this data for their schools and know whom to pull from games and practices — or whether the game can go on.
All students 12 and older will need to be two weeks past their second Pfizer shot before they can return to in-person classes at the start of the new semester in January. Students 18 and older have the option of getting the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The district has declined to release numbers on the progress of student vaccinations.
The latest figures on district infections show an increase from last week, although the totals are much smaller than at the start of the school year.
For the week beginning Oct. 18, 56 employees tested positive for the coronavirus, leading to 57 additional quarantines for exposed employees. And 384 students tested positive, leading to the quarantine of 1,870 close contacts.
For the week beginning Oct. 25, 93 employees tested positive and 50 employees who were close contacts had to quarantine. Among students, 665 tested positive, leading to quarantines for 2,105 students judged to be close contacts.
The positive test rate for the higher week was 0.1% for employees and .13% for students. That would translate to 1 positive test for every 1,000 taking part in the weekly mandatory testing.
The federal vaccine signoff Tuesday is unlikely to affect the timing of a pending statewide student COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Under a plan announced last month by Gov. Gavin Newsom, students 12 and older would not have to be vaccinated until the start of the semester following full federal approval for that age group. Currently, the vaccines have an emergency-use authorization for those 12 to 15. That’s the same designation now in place for those 5 to 11.
L.A. Unified’s mandate goes beyond what the state is requiring.
A local parent and teachers group hailed the authorization of the vaccine for the younger age group.
“This is wonderful news for many parents who have been anxiously waiting for their youngest elementary school-aged children to be protected,” according to a statement from Nicolle Fefferman and Jenna Schwartz, the co-founders of Parents Supporting Teachers. “While cases have remained low in recent weeks, with the advent of flu season and the holidays, vaccines, coupled with the district’s safety protocols, will continue to reduce spread within schools and communities.
“Unvaccinated children can still spread the virus and become infected,” they said, “and we are hopeful that parents with eligible children get them vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them without a requirement.”
Some parents are unenthusiastic — even hostile — and have filed litigation to overturn the school system’s mask mandate and its required weekly testing for the coronavirus. L.A. Unified also now faces two lawsuits over its vaccine mandate for students 12 and older. Parents were unsuccessful last week in getting a judge to order an immediate halt to the district’s vaccine mandate.
Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.
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