Public school students over the age of 12 will be required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Interim Superintendent Victoria Greer requested that the Cambridge School Committee implement the mandate, effective Nov. 22, calling the vaccine the "best tool in defeating the virus." Committee members approved her request in a 6-1vote Tuesday night.
"We cannot sit by and let the virus destroy the futures of our young people who have already experienced such a negative impact on their academic, social and emotional development," Greer wrote in a letter to the school committee.
Manikka Bowman, vice chair of the school committee, said, "We have to remove the possibility of transmission and the way we do that is masks and vaccines."
Unvaccinated children can still attend school, but they will not be able to participate in extra-curricular activities including sports, student government, clubs and school sponsored events.
"I don’t know how I feel about that because it can also create differences among students," one man said.
But the superintendent says that was not the intent, but they had to do something to boost vaccination rates.
"They're teenagers and it's just not the most important thing to them right now," Greer said.
Cambridge vaccination rates for teenagers ages 16 to 19 is around 50%, while 95% of children ages 12 to 15 have had at least one dose.
Vaccines are currently cleared for children over the age of 12. Once a vaccine for children under 12 receives federal approval, the school district will extend its mandate to younger students.
"It’s a good idea just so people don’t get COVID when they don’t have to," student Dave Parmesh said.
"I actually jumped at the chance," said 13-year-old Kathleen Benner, adding she is glad she did. "Really good to get the protection we need so we don’t get COVID."
Cambridge is the largest school district in Massachusetts to start requiring the shot, and not every parent is pleased.
"I think it's really crazy, I'm personally I'm not vaccinated, so me getting my kids to get vaccinated I don’t agree with it," said Mariah Santiago.
State Rep. Mike Connolly said he thinks Cambridge has set an excellent model and would like to see the mandate statewide.
"First of all I would say at this point we don’t have final approvals for kids on any of this stuff," Gov. Charlie Baker said when asked about a statewide mandate.
The governor says while school districts can make their own decisions about the shot for students, the state will continue to encourage it -- though they will not require it.
Boston is reportedly considering a similar mandate for its schools, and leaders in Cambridge are hoping more districts follow suit. They plan on hosting information sessions for parents in the coming weeks.