The head of the American Federation of Teachers said that the stance on vaccine mandates need to reflect the times. And while the union had previously said that vaccination of teachers should be voluntary, that thinking has shifted now that the more contagious delta variant is leading to a surge of COVID-19 cases across the country. “The circumstances have changed,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told NBC News’ Meet the Press. Weingarten added that “it weighs really heavily” on her that those under 12 can’t get vaccinated.
The leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, which is the second-largest union representing teachers, will be meeting this week to consider a change in policy to back mandates. “Vaccines are the single most important way of dealing with COVID. We’ve always dealt with, or since 1850, we’ve dealt with vaccines in schools. It’s not a new thing to have immunizations in schools,” Weingarten said. “And I think that on a personal matter, as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers, not opposing them, on vaccine mandates.”
A mandate wouldn’t have such a huge effect on the union’s members considering 90 percent of the teachers have already “stepped up” and received the vaccine, Weingarten said. “I think we are probably the most vaccinated profession right now,” she said, while also recognizing there are “significant” exemptions to vaccination that must be honored. But “vaccination is a community responsibility,” she said.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that Weingarten’s vaccination push is “helpful.” Cardona didn’t, however, give a straight yes or no answer when asked for his position regarding mandatory vaccination for teachers in schools. “I feel strongly that if you’re eligible to get vaccinated, get vaccinated, do your part to make sure that we’re all safe and that we can reopen schools without interruptions,” Cardona said. “Again, our students have suffered enough.”
The Biden administration has said it won’t mandate vaccines beyond federal workers but is calling on local governments to consider them. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Sunday on Meet the Press that “I believe mandates at the local level need to be done.” Fauci added that children who aren’t vaccinated need to be surrounded by vaccinated adults. “Protect the kids with a shield of vaccinated people,” Fauci said.
Becky Pringle, the head of the National Education Association, which is the country’s largest teachers’ union has previously said mandates should be negotiated at the local level. “Everyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated and if they can’t they should be tested on a regular basis,” she said in a statement on Thursday.