A vaccine requirement for students? Lightfoot says it’s ‘premature’ even as Fauci gives support

Illinois already requires proof of vaccination against more than 10 diseases as a condition of enrollment. Will a COVID-19 shot be added to the list?

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot walks with a student on the first day back to school at Mary E. Courtenay Language Arts Center at 4420 N Beacon St. in Uptown, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday it’s “premature” to discuss COVID-19 vaccine mandates for K-12 students until children under 12 become eligible for shots.

Requirements for students to get vaccinated would appear to be the next step for school systems fighting to keep the virus out of classrooms after Chicago Public Schools — followed by Illinois officials — already mandated shots for school employees.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said over the weekend that he would support COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students now that the vaccine has full approval for those over 16.

“I believe that mandating vaccines for children to appear in school is a good idea,” Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“This is not something new. We have mandates in many places in schools, particularly public schools, that if in fact you want a child to come in — we’ve done this for decades and decades requiring [vaccines for] polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the White House. “So this would not be something new, requiring vaccinations for children to come to school.”

Illinois already requires proof of vaccination against more than 10 diseases as a condition of enrollment. A COVID-19 shot would be the latest added to the list.

Asked about Fauci’s comments at a back-to-school news conference Monday, Lightfoot said she hadn’t yet had those discussions. While the vaccine was given emergency use authorization for kids between the ages of 12 and 15, approval for younger children isn’t expected until late fall or early winter, company officials have said.

“Obviously we don’t have a vaccine for children who are younger than 12, so it’s a little premature I think to be talking about that,” the mayor said.

“But obviously we know that the one sure thing to keep people safe is a vaccine. And we’ve got work to do, still, to educate people about the efficacy of the vaccine to disabuse people of a lot of the misinformation that’s out there.”

Lightfoot said the city would be “announcing some new things, incentives around the vaccine shortly.

“But we are very, very laser-focused on really raising the percentages of people across our neighborhoods who are vaccinated.”

CPS Interim CEO José Torres said he didn’t believe the city or the district had the authority to require vaccines for students.

“It is the Illinois Department of Public Health that could require vaccination,” Torres said. “But the city nor the district actually could require that.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office did not directly answer questions on whether the state would mandate vaccines for students, saying the governor “has followed science throughout this pandemic” and “will continue to prioritize safety for students, educators and communities.”

An Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman didn’t immediately say whether districts have the authority to mandate vaccines or if that requirement would need to go through the state.

Contributing: Rachel Hinton

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