Could COVID-19 vaccines be mandated for Utah teachers?

Coronavirus Updates

MURRAY, Utah (ABC4) – The nation’s top infectious disease expert is calling for coronavirus vaccine mandates for teachers. And two of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions are divided on if the shot should or should not be mandated. What does this mean here in Utah?

With school starting back up again and concern of even greater spread of the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House medical advisor, said in an interview with USA Today, those who work in schools have an obligation to protect their safety and health, and that’s why he wants to mandate the vaccine.

The American Federation of Teachers supports vaccine mandates, while the National Education Association doesn’t endorse a mandate.

Tied closely to the NEA, the Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said the organization also supports teachers getting vaccinated, but recognizes there are reasons why a teacher may opt-out.

“There are religious, personal, or medical reasons and complexities that might cause a person to choose otherwise,” she said. “We very much support having accommodations, having conversations that allow for this, but within recognition that there might have to be some testing.”

Currently, Utah law (H.B. 308) blocks coronavirus vaccine mandates under emergency use authorization, but even without requirements in place, the White House reports almost 90% of the country’s educators and school employees are vaccinated.

ABC4 News reached out to the Utah Department of Health to see how many teachers have received the COVID-19 vaccine, however, a spokesperson said they do not track professions.

Teachers were among the first eligible Utahns to receive the vaccine.

“Every member of the Utah Education Association that I’ve spoken to has been so grateful to be prioritized last year,” she said.

Anecdotally, Matthews said a majority of teachers in the state are vaccinated against COVID-19; but now the concern among educators is the Delta variant’s transmissibility.

“I’m so worried about the possibility of that smoldering Delta variant,” she said. “It still puts unvaccinated people at risk, it puts our educators at risk for breakthrough cases, it puts their households at risk for further spreading the virus, and we don’t have many of the supports we had last year.”

That support that Matthews said is missing is additional paid sick days if an employee contracts COVID-19, as well as a lack of substitute teachers.

“What happens this year if I run out? Am I going to lose my compensation for being in an environment that isn’t being protected?” she said about some teacher’s concerns.  

Matthews said discussions need to happen within school districts about the steps they need to take to ensure classes can be covered.

While teachers may have different beliefs on whether or not the vaccine should be mandated, Matthews said where they come together is the value of students’ education.

And she said having a choice is important, but there’s also a recognition that someone else’s choice may affect another person.

“We’ve got to find a way of individual liberty and our collective responsibility in our society, in our schools, with our employees, to make our schools run so that we can be the best that we can be for our students and their parents and their communities,” she said.

During the 2020-2021 school year, UDOH reported more than 3,700 teachers contracted COVID-19.

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