CPS Needs a Stronger Vaccine Mandate


Lucy Taylor

A stronger vaccine mandate will help CPS recover from the pandemic.

Margaret Unger, Managing Editor

When Cambridge Public Schools students returned to the classroom for the 2022-2023 school year, school felt a lot more normal than just one year before. Masks are now optional, as they have been since March 2022, and only symptomatic students are tested for COVID-19. Yet, one critical step has not been taken to ensure student safety this year: a universal school vaccine mandate.

A universal mandate across grade levels is necessary to ensure all students are protected.

Since November 2021, all CPS students must be vaccinated to participate in extracurricular activities with limited exemptions. A booster requirement was instituted for the new school year but was soon lifted. Regardless, the existing policy appears to have been effective, as over 80% of Cambridge high schoolers are now vaccinated, a significant increase from fall 2021. Yet, the CPS COVID-19 Dashboard reveals a staggering age-based disparity: only 66.8% of elementary schoolers are vaccinated, compared to 73.6% of middle schoolers and 85.9% of high schoolers. It’s logical to equate this difference with the greater number of school-sponsored extracurricular opportunities for older students, but additional factors also contribute to this discrepancy. Namely, the vaccine has been available to older students for longer, and older students may be more likely to advocate that they get vaccinated to their parents.
A universal mandate across grade levels is necessary to ensure all students are protected, regardless of age, and would encourage more parents to vaccinate their children while still allowing medical or religious exemptions. Several studies, including one by Boston University, have indicated that in-person learning poses little risk in this phase of the pandemic, but that vaccination remains crucial for reducing transmission. The fact that CPS is mask-optional makes vaccination even more important.
CPS’s role in increasing vaccination rates goes beyond just a mandate, however. For one, the vaccine must be made accessible to all students, not just those with the means of scheduling an appointment elsewhere. Vaccine and booster clinics in Cambridge schools should be more frequent and better advertised, and the health department should prepare a clinic to administer the new bivalent booster shot, recently authorized for ages twelve and up and designed to specifically target new strains of the omicron variant. Further, CPS needs to increase communication surrounding the vaccine and vaccine mandates and work to educate families on the importance of the vaccine.
While controversial, school vaccine mandates are not unprecedented. The Massachusetts state website lists five vaccines required for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The COVID-19 vaccines are no longer new and have undergone rigorous safety testing across age groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasize on their website that, “Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history.” Even as new booster vaccines increase protection against the ever-evolving virus, mandating a bare minimum of the initial vaccination series will help protect our community from another spike in cases. Cambridge cannot stay engulfed in the pandemic forever, and a district-wide vaccine mandate is vital to allow schools to recover and move forward.

This article also appears in our September 2022 print edition.