Oakland schools hope to get more students vaccinated with community Q&As

The Oakland Unified School District is holding meetings with parents to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students which the school board passed last week.

The first meeting on Monday was held in Spanish. A second meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

Dr. Noah Aboelata of Roots Community Clinic said it is important to listen to parents and students and understand their concerns. She says the goal of the meetings is to dispel misinformation and provide accurate information to the community so they can understand the facts about the COVID19 vaccines.

Aboelata is also part of a "Black and Vaxxed" movement that launched a new effort online to increase vaccination rates in the Black community through the Black Women Organized for Political Action or BWOPA with information on their website about getting community members involved: 

"Less than half of the teenagers who are black and brown are fully vaccinated," said Mike Hutchinson, the OUSD Board's District 5 Director, adding that data from Alameda County indicates that Oakland students of color might be impacted more by the vaccine mandate than other groups.

Hutchinson voted against the mandate. He says as the district makes the plan, he worries about students of color and their education because the district does not have the capacity right now to absorb large numbers of unvaccinated children into the virtual classrooms.

Nkaah Prosper Ade Yingshine, an Oakland 7th grader, is one of the students who has received the Pfizer vaccine.

"It was scary, but I got over it," said Prosper, "The kids have to make a choice to get it or not get it."

His mother, Renata Porkolab, is a nurse and says she supported him getting the shot but wonders about younger children.

MORE: Oakland schools' student COVID vaccine mandate could be in place by January

"I do believe in prevention but it's hard because we still don't know the long-term effects," said Porkolab.

"I have four children and three of them are vaccinated," said Nicol Thome, another Oakland parent who also works in health care. "I'm definitely in favor of it. I work in a hospital, and I think the vaccine will do wonders ending the pandemic."

Thome says she supports the mandate but recognizes that some families might face barriers.

"There's definitely a disparity in terms of health care for people of color, no doubt. And I think it has a lot to do with getting the information out there, the truth out there. It has a lot to do with making resources available," said Thome.

Hutchinson says the state should be taking the lead and taking action, not leaving it to local school districts. He says he worries about the district facing legal challenges once the mandate takes effect sometime at the beginning of next year.

"That gives us between now and January hopefully to have the state take action and provide guidance and hopefully to provide an implementation plan to cover our unvaccinated students," said Hutchinson.

"There's still legal uncertainty on whether you can mandate a vaccine under an EUA," said UC Hastings Law Professor Dorit Reiss who is an expert in vaccine law.

Reiss says mandates for other vaccines are all set by the state, which has not added COVID-19 shots to their list.

"If the state acted, there wouldn't be a question. That would be legal, but for school districts to go alone it's trickier," said Reiss.

Reiss says districts also have difficult decisions such as implementation and what exemptions to accept.

"Under state law, there is only a medical exemption. California is no longer offering a non-medical exemption since 2015 when we abolished it. So, there is a question, will the district go further and offer more exemptions?" said Reiss.

The Oakland Unified School District is hosting popup clinics for the free COVID vaccine at 10 Oakland school sites and two community centers in the coming months.

The superintendent is expected to present the plan for implementing the vaccine mandate to the board by the end of October.

For more information about OUSD's clinics and vaccines, click here. 

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.