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FDA Fully Approves Pfizer Vaccine; Still No Student Mandate

Despite full FDA authorization of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23, BUSD has yet to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for eligible students.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for individuals over 16 years old on August 23. 

Previously, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, along with the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines, had only been available under emergency use authorization, a categorization used by the FDA to make drugs and other medical products available more quickly to the public during public health emergencies. While the Pfizer vaccine was under emergency use authorization, some school districts could not legally require their employees or students to be vaccinated. 

Now, however, with the vaccine fully approved for many Berkeley High School (BHS) students, mandates may be an option, and many are wondering whether Berkeley schools will require vaccination for eligible students.

Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Superintendent Brent Stephens said in an email that while the district believes in the safety of the vaccine, “decisions about vaccination requirements for students attending public schools are within the authority of the state of California.” 

At this time, it is unclear when or if California will mandate vaccination for students.

Additionally, the district is looking into having mandates targeted at student athletes and participants in other extracurriculars. According to Stephens, research on the topic is still ongoing.

BHS athletic directors Robin Vegt and Ross Parker stated in an email that if vaccines are to be mandated for student athletes, they would “facilitate that policy.”

City of Berkeley Public Health Officer Lisa Hernandez said that she does not think a vaccine mandate is needed for students because vaccination rates are high; 94 percent of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds in Berkeley have already received both shots. 

“Concern about the Delta variant, recent full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 16-[year-olds], and state and employer vaccine mandates have all increased vaccination rates,” Hernandez said in an email to the Jacket.

Even without a vaccine mandate at school, students may simply feel more safe getting vaccinated now that the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA. 

Culver City Unified School District may be the first district in the country to mandate vaccination for students over the age of 12. The district did so with the intention that the vaccine will be fully approved for students ages 12 and up by the designated deadline for the mandate.

School districts throughout the United States have their eyes on Culver City to see the community’s reaction, as well as how effective a mandate truly is.

Los Angeles Unified School District has also approved a vaccine mandate for eligible students aged 12 and up, and other districts may soon follow suit. 

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