While state, county and local health experts are urging OC parents to get their kids vaccinated, some school district officials are pushing back on an expected vaccine mandate for all California kids to be in classrooms.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October that he plans to roll out a mandate requiring all students get their covid shot in order to attend school in person after the FDA fully approves the vaccine for kids.

In an email last week, the California Department of Public Health said they’re waiting on full federal approval for children before rolling out the mandate.

“At a time when COVID-19 case rates remain at concerning levels, we must do everything to protect our kids — now is not the time to let our guard down, especially during the winter months when many students remain unvaccinated.”

California Department of Public Health in an email

The State of California already requires students to be vaccinated for other viruses like measles, mumps and rubella.

“There’s no reason COVID-19 should be treated any differently. Our K-12 safety measures have resulted in California leading national trends in preventing schools closures due to outbreaks and keeping students in-person,” reads the email.

Not everyone agrees the mandate is the right approach.

Pushback on Vaccine Mandate

Since the October annoucement, OC parents have been going to public school board meetings calling on their elected trustees to push back against the expected mandate and worried about the safety of the vaccine for kids and the lack of research on the long term impacts of the vaccine.

They have threatened to pull their kids out of school if the mandate goes into effect and some parents have even kept their children home from school on certain days in protest.

[Read: Debates Over the COVID-19 Student Vaccine Mandate Flare Up at OC School Districts]

At the same time, local health experts have been trying to reassure parents of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for kids 5-11 and argue COVID itself presents a bigger risk than the virus.

Nonetheless, some OC school districts like Ocean View and Capistrano Unified adopted resolutions calling on Newsom to rethink the mandate, worried that the requirement would drive students away from traditional K-12 schools and disseminate the state’s public school system. 

[Read: More OC School Boards Oppose Student Vaccine Mandates]

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District held discussions last week on the vaccine mandate.

Trustee Shawn Youngblood called for a resolution in favor of parental choice to be brought back before the board at a January meeting.

“We’re seeing a lot of districts are putting together resolutions that will show the governor, elected officials as well as CDPH that we would like to have parental choice.”

Trustee Shawn Youngblood at last week’s Placentia-Yorba Linda School District meeting

Youngblood also worried about liability issues for the district, if something happens to kids from the vaccine when the mandate goes into effect.

Trustee Marilyn Anderson requested a survey also be conducted to see how parents would pull out their kids over the mandate to strengthen their argument to the state.

“If people are going to leave our district because of these mandates, then we need to know those numbers,” she said. “So it shows how it’s going to affect our district…  since COVID, we’ve lost 1,600 students.”

Just a day prior to the discussion, the district announced in a statement they’re quarantining a whole sixth grade class at Travis Ranch School due to a high number of students testing positive for the virus or being in close contact with someone who has.

Not once did the sixth grade class come up in the board’s discussion on vaccines.

The County Board of Education has also pushed back against the expected vaccine mandate passing a resolution earlier this month – calling on state officials to recommend, but not require the vaccine for students and staff.

The resolution attached to the agenda passed on 3-1 vote, with Trustee Beckie Gomez dissenting.

The board also pushed back and tried to sue Newsom over the mask mandate in schools, which the California Supreme Court tossed out. They also tried to sue Newson to reopen schools in 2020, which was also denied by the state Supreme Court.

Other districts like Santa Ana Unified — one of the largest in the county — are holding vaccine clinics for kids and the community at schools in some of the hardest hit areas in Orange County

[Read: Will School Vaccination Sites Help Close the Latino COVID-19 Gap?]

Health experts are applauding school districts that have launched vaccine clinics at school sites.

“Schools are super important for outreach and getting the vaccines out to the communities and there’s been a lot of interaction with the schools … Santa Ana and Anaheim (schools) have been super involved with contact tracing, educating the community and now with vaccine efforts,” said Dr. Daniel Parker, UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert in a phone interview this month.

The Virus’ Effects on Kids

Earlier this month, Orange County’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Jasjit Singh, assistant director of pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Hospital Orange County, and Dr. Eric Ball, a primary care pediatrician at Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates to speak about the vaccine for kids.

Singh said while kids are not affected as often as adults by the coronavirus, there have been almost 700 pediatric hospitalizations at CHOC — with many of the kids having underlying conditions like cancer or chronic lung disease, while others without any risk factors.

She said multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C, a post-infection complication of COVID that appears weeks after the virus, has also brought kids to the hospital.

​​”These are kids that come in with fever, a lot of inflammation, several organs involved and they are honestly some of the sickest kids I’ve seen. I’ve been doing this for a long time for 25 years and these kids are sick.”

Dr. Jasjit Singh, assistant director of pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Hospital Orange County during a webinar

She said she has post traumatic stress disorder from seeing how sick kids have gotten from COVID or the effects of virus, like the multi inflammatory syndrome.

“It just makes me so sad when I see these kids, and they’re just so very ill from what is now a vaccine-preventable disease,” she said.

Singh also said there’s been referrals of kids with debilitating long haul COVID-19 symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, aches and pain similar to adults.

“Unfortunately, COVID has wreaked some havoc in kids as well as adults,” she said.

Ball said COVID is very different from other viruses and that some of the lingering effects scares him.

“We often see kids with very strange effects, neurologic effects, heart effects, not the traditional cough and fever,” he said at the webinar. “I’ve had some kids who’ve had neurological issues that have not resolved.”

Health Experts Weigh in on Vaccines For Kids

Ball said the risk of hospitalization or death dramatically decreases for people who are vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Even when we talk about the vaccine losing efficacy, not working as well as time goes on, it’s still working extremely well of keeping people alive and keeping people out of the hospital,” he said. “The vaccine has been incredibly effective in the teenage group.”

Singh said most of the sideeffects kids will experience from the vaccine, if any, will be mild and similar to the side effects felt by adults after their vaccines.

“Things like sore arms, mild low grade fevers, maybe a little bit of headache, that kind of thing and those usually last 24 to 48 hours, and then you’re good to go,” she said.

Singh also addressed concerns over Myocarditis or heart inflammation after taking the vaccine which said was very rare and resolves in a couple of days. She also said the effects were less severe than that of getting myocarditis without having taken the vaccine. 

“It’s important to remember that the virus itself can cause things like myocarditis and other side effects, and that that’s going to be much more common than some of these rare side effects from the vaccine.”

Dr. Jasjit Singh, assistant director of pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Hospital Orange County during a webinar

Ball said if you don’t get vaccinated you will likely get Coronavirus at some point.

Singh said there are robust systems in place in the U.S. to monitor for super rare side effects from the vaccine and with the amount of kids and teenagers that have been vaccinated at this point there’s a lot of data showing the safety of the vaccine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Orange County chapter has also posted a Frequently Asked Questions sheet about the vaccine posted on their website.

In Orange County, more then 53,000 kids between the ages of 5-11 have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, while more then 172,000 kids between the ages of 12-17 have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the OC HealthCare Agency’s dashboard.

Around 215,000 kids 5-11 years old are not vaccinated and less then 71,000 kids 12-17 are also unvaccinated, according to the dashboard.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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