SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – California is one of six states that mandates COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 teachers but not staff at child care centers or preschools, a policy disparity that puts both young children and adult workers at risk, a new study concludes.
Only Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, and Washington D.C. have vaccination mandates covering both teachers and child care professionals, said Dr. Kavin Patel, an infectious disease fellow at Yale University and the lead author of the study in JAMA Pediatrics.
“The argument in favor of vaccinating child care professionals is certainly as strong as the argument in favor of vaccinating school teachers, if not stronger,” Patel said.
Not only are children under five still ineligible for immunization against COVID, but they also don’t adhere well to social distancing measures, he said.
Child care workers themselves may be at greater risk from the virus. A larger share of childcare workers are racial or ethnic minorities compared to teachers. Minority groups have a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe illness, the paper notes.
On average, child care workers make about half as much as teachers, according to co-author Dr. Walter Gilliam, a professor at the Yale Child Study Center. Numerous studies have linked income levels with COVID outcomes.
“Child care providers made sure that our children were safe during the pandemic. It’s our turn to make sure that they’re safe too,” Dr. Gilliam said.
In past research, Gilliam and Patel found that 78 percent of U.S. child care professionals are vaccinated against COVID compared to 90 percent of teachers. In California, the vaccination rate for child care workers was slightly higher, at 82 percent.
A mandate that improves California’s child care staff vaccination rate by even a few percentage points would be significant, Patel said, based on the lessons from measles.
“In order to prevent outbreaks of measles from occurring, you need vaccination rates approaching essentially 100 percent,” he said. “Omicron is also very contagious, so the higher the vaccination rate you have, the lower the risk of an outbreak. Every percentage point certainly makes a difference.”
California law requires that workers and volunteers at child care centers show proof of immunization against measles, influenza, and pertussis.
In the absence of a statewide vaccine mandate for COVID-19, some child care providers in San Diego have imposed their own requirements.
SAY San Diego instituted a vaccination mandate for all employees, including child care staff, effective Dec. 20, said president and CEO Nancy Gannon Hornberger. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, which operates several preschools, confirmed it does not have a vaccination mandate for child care workers.
The authors of the study say it’s not clear why so many states mandated shots for teachers but not child care staff. The California Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment submitted Wednesday.
The researchers theorize it might stem from the political pressure to keep schools open or because preschools and child care centers are mostly privately owned, making enforcement of a mandate more challenging.
“In terms of public policy, oftentimes, young children are an afterthought, and as a result, those who care for young children are an afterthought,” Gilliam said.
California lawmakers introduced a bill that would require preschool and daycare students to be vaccinated. However, the legislation would not apply to child care employees in its current form.
Another bill, AB 1993, would require all California employers to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on employees regardless of industry.
More information about Yale University’s early childhood education research is available here.