COVID-19 vaccinations should be required for U.S. teachers to protect students who are too young to be inoculated, the head of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union said on Sunday, shifting course to back mandated shots as more children fall ill.
“The circumstances have changed,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” program. “It weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated.”
“I felt the need … to stand up and say this as a matter of personal conscience,” she said.
The number of children hospitalized with COVID is rising across the country, a trend health experts attribute to the Delta variant being more likely to infect children than the original Alpha strain.
Almost 90% of educators and school staff are vaccinated, according to a White House statement echoed by Weingarten in other television interviews last week.
A growing number of companies and state governments are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. United Airlines, meatpacker Tyson Foods Inc and Microsoft are requiring employees get vaccinated, moves that experts said were legal but could raise labor tensions in unionized workplaces.
California, New York and Virginia are also requiring all state employees to get inoculated, and New Jersey is requiring some workers in health care to take the vaccine.
Becky Pringle, president of the largest U.S. teachers’ union, the National Education Association, told the New York Times last week that any vaccine mandate should be negotiated at the local level.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, said it was critical to surround children with vaccinated and masked people in schools and elsewhere until shots are approved for them.
“You surround them with those who can be vaccinated, whoever they are — teachers, personnel in the schools, anyone – get them vaccinated. Protect the kids with a shield of vaccinated people,” he said in a separate interview on NBC, noting that pediatric hospitals are filling up with COVID cases.
The United States has reported more than 100,000 new cases a day on average for the past two days, a six-month high, according to a Reuters tally. About 400 people a day on average are dying. Hospitalizations are the highest since last February.