The COVID-19 vaccine has caused a lot of controversy in this country, further exacerbating the political divide in America. Although many skeptics have expressed concern about the creation and impacts of the vaccine, the reality is that in the fight against COVID-19, it has proved to be nothing less than a savior. To move forward from this pandemic, it is crucial that everyone gets vaccinated, which is why the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) has proposed a vaccine policy to prepare for California’s oncoming student vaccine mandate.
The BUSD School Board’s current vaccination policy is that students must either get vaccinated or submit to regular BUSD-provided COVID-19 testing. Students currently on sports teams already have to be tested regularly, although the district plans to begin only testing high-risk sports, specifically indoor, close-contact sports like basketball. This decrease in testing increases the necessity for students to get vaccinated. The district is planning a campaign to get more people vaccinated, beginning with working to understand what concerns the community has about vaccines in hopes of alleviating them. The plan would involve opportunities for students from Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS). The goal of the campaign would be to increase vaccine rates in BUSD schools. At this time, it is very important that we increase vaccinations because of California’s future mandate.
At the September 22 board meeting, when first discussing the idea of a mandate, the board had a lengthy deliberation about the policy. One focus surrounded the policy’s impact on students and families of color. The board has observed that students of color make up the majority of the unvaccinated students, and they don’t want them to become targeted by this campaign. There is a fear that mandated testing for unvaccinated students may cause stigma around those students. It is also vital that BUSD makes sure that testing is always available for students who choose to not get vaccinated. Requiring students to get tested or vaccinated means that testing has to be easily accessible. Another of goal is to work with public health officials in this campaign.
If this policy and campaign are carried out well, it could put us on the road to a maskless and COVID-19-free future. Even more important is the fact that its success would help to protect at-risk members of the BUSD community. There are many older teachers at Berkeley High School (BHS), demonstrating one reason why getting vaccinated isn’t simply about protecting yourself. It’s about protecting everyone who could be seriously harmed by COVID-19 and protecting the people you go home to after being with thousands of other students. It’s about those thousands of students. Getting vaccinated isn’t something that depends on whether you feel like it or not; thousands of others have put their trust in you to keep them safe.
There has always been much talk about the “end of COVID-19,” but there will not be a single moment that marks its end. It will be in many small steps and moments. The biggest step we as a community can take is to get vaccinated so that one day we will be able to take off our masks and say that COVID-19 truly is over. Moving forward, it’s more important than ever that our communities are vaccinated.