LAUSD vaccine mandate bears watching

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By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

I asked this question on the Nov. 13 edition of my weekly Pacific Radio show “The Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show.” Should the LAUSD bar students from class who are unvaccinated? There were dozens of responses. Frankly, I was shocked at them.

The overwhelming majority of the callers said no. Now they didn’t just say no. There’s was a passionate no. 

They said the school board was dead wrong in its decision that students over age 12, except in special cases (unclear what they were) who could not show proof of vaccination would not be allowed to attend class after Jan. 10. Their reasons boiled down to two. 

One, the vaccines were harmful, or more charitably there was no real proof that they worked long term, and that children were the least likely to get COVID. The second reason was more intriguing. The mandate was blatant government overreach. 

Forcing parents to vaccinate their children was a gross denial of liberty. That flew in the face of American freedoms. One of which is the right of choice. 

The LAUSD board was emphatic in its statement announcing the decision to bar unvaccinated students. It said it based the decision on medical and scientific consensus about the effectiveness of vaccines. It had a duty to ensure the health and safety of students.

The operative words were “medical and scientific consensus.” The callers were having none of that. They hotly disputed the medical and scientific evidence, contending that it was false science at best and medical propaganda at worse.

It’s tempting to dismiss the anti-vaxxers as misguided, or ignorant and fearful of the facts, or are driven by a rightwing agenda that was whipped up by former President Donald Trump. And that those who oppose vaccinations are irresponsible in gambling with the public’s health and safety.

The sad, but brutal reality, is that there are millions of vaccine opponents. They aren’t just folk in the Republican hotbeds in the Midwest and South. 

There are legions of them in Los Angeles. They aren’t solely white, low- and middle-income blue collar, or middle-class suburbanites. There are a lot of Blacks and Hispanics who buy into the anti-vax mania. Think NBA star Kyrie Irving. 

When the COVID vaccines were first unrolled in January 2021, polls then found that Blacks and Hispanics were opposed in greater numbers than whites to vaccines. About 40% of Blacks said no. That gradually changed as more Blacks and Hispanics got vaccinated.

By September, 72% of Blacks were vaccinated. However, surveys of the vaccinated showed that Blacks and Hispanics still lagged behind whites in getting vaccinated. The new term was “vaccine deliberate.”

That is many Blacks and Hispanics were still on watch about the vaccines. One survey group, First Draft, chalked up much of the hesitancy about vaccinations to rampant misinformation and distortions, some deliberate, that were rampant on the internet and social media.

For the past year, African-American medical groups, civil rights leaders and elected officials have pleaded, implored and practically begged African Americans on social media, in press releases and viral townhalls to get vaccinated. They have produced study after study and report after report, vouching for the safety of the vaccines now available. 

Yet, none of their pleadings has had much effect on the many African Americans who say no deal on a shot, even if in L.A. it means their child can’t attend class.

Many Blacks are not just wary of a COVID vaccine. They are wary of almost all vaccines. Countless surveys have shown that Blacks are less likely to get vaccinated as a prevention to just about every infectious disease even though they are far more likely to die from those same diseases than whites.

Vaccines do work and have saved tens of thousands of lives. That almost certainly will eventually be the proven case with the COVID vaccines. Yet, the cajoling, the availability of no-cost vaccines, the massive public health education campaigns on the importance of vaccinations have done little to scrub away the suspicion, reluctance and outright fear among many Blacks and Hispanics of vaccinations.

Conspiracies, distrust, racial double standards past and present, topped by the uncertainty over a workable COVID-19 vaccination creates the perfect storm of doubt and outrage over the merits of vaccines.

The paradox in all of this is that almost from the moment the coronavirus pandemic hit, Blacks screamed the loudest that they feared that they would be the hardest hit by the pandemic. The disproportionate death rate of Blacks from COVID bore out this fear.

Now the battleground has shifted to the schools with the LAUSD mandate. But even here there’s still much caution. 

No other major school district in the country has barred unvaccinated students from the classroom. From the tone and anger of the callers to my show, I can see why other school districts have not enacted a mandate. They’ll watch and see what happens with the LAUSD. It will indeed be interesting.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “Duped: The GOP’s Lock on America’s Underclass” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly “Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show” on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.

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