State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond urged students Friday to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before the fall term begins and full, in-person classes resume.
Thurmond called on students age 12 and up to get vaccinated as soon as they can to protect themselves, their peers and their teachers.
Thurmond also urged parents to do the same, especially if they have children who are under age 12 and thus not yet eligible for a vaccine.
"We just want to urge and encourage every adult who can get a vaccine, if nothing else, get your vaccine so that you can help your children who can't get a vaccine be able to be safe and to be able to get their education in person," Thurmond said Friday morning.
Thurmond deferred to state legislators and public health officials when asked if the state is considering a mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine the same way it mandates vaccinations against illnesses like measles and whooping cough, but argued the vaccines' protection from serious illness and death is a public good.
"At the rate that they are projecting that the unvaccinated folks will get COVID-19 due to the (delta) variant, it seems to me that a vaccine mandate is a good thing," he said. "But mandates are only as good as they are able to be enforced...Until there are mandates, we must do all that we can to educate those who have been hesitant."
Thurmond's encouragement comes the same week that three unvaccinated teachers in Broward County, Florida, died due to COVID-19 complications just a week before their classes are scheduled to start.
State officials have attempted to mitigate similar outcomes by requiring teachers to either confirm their vaccination status or get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
"We're seeing that 99 percent of the cases with serious injury are those who are unvaccinated," Thurmond said. "That tells us that we can prevent serious injury by making sure that those who can't get a vaccine get one."