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Union head indicates teachers may drop opposition to vaccine mandate

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten spoke during a rally on May 15, 2021.Christopher Dolan/Associated Press

Randi Weingarten, head of the powerful American Federation of Teachers, expressed her strongest support to date for mandatory vaccination of educators, saying Sunday that she would urge her union’s leadership to reconsider its position against vaccine mandates.

“It’s not a new thing to have immunizations in schools,” Weingarten told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “And I think that on a personal matter, as a matter of personal conscience, I think that we need to be working with our employers, not opposing them, on vaccine mandates.”

She called rising cases in the United States a “public health crisis. And the politics are infecting it.”


She added that she felt the need “to bring people together and to stand up and say this as a matter of personal conscience.”

Weingarten, who recently traveled to Missouri and Florida, both of which are reporting surges in COVID cases among the unvaccinated, said her change of heart was motivated by the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant, the need to return children to the classroom and her particular concern for the health of children under the age of 12, who do not have the option of getting vaccinated.

“I do think that the circumstances have changed and that vaccination is a community responsibility,” she said.

Her comments were the latest showing a shift for the nation’s most powerful teachers’ union. On Thursday, she told The New York Times: “Things have changed with delta raging, and with the proximity of the full approval of the vaccines. Because of those two facts, we are considering all alternatives, including looking at vaccine mandates.”

Her opinion, she said, is that vaccines are the most important tool available to combat the pandemic, and she came out swinging against Fox News, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, for what she called a “terrible” campaign of “disinformation” that is “hurting people in terms of their public health.” (She praised Sean Hannity, a Fox News host, for expressing his support for vaccines.)


The nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday that vaccine mandates were needed to give children who cannot get vaccinated a “shield of vaccinated people.”

“You’ve got to protect the children,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

Some people may be persuaded to get vaccinated after the vaccines, now authorized for emergency use, receive full Food and Drug Administration approval, he said, “but for those who do not want, I believe mandates at the local level need to be done.” Fauci added that he is hopeful the FDA approval will come by the end of this month.