New Orleans residents prepare for school vaccine mandate for kids as young as 5

In New Orleans, parents of children ages 5 and older are preparing for public schools to require the coronavirus vaccine beginning early next month, weeks ahead of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. 

New Orleans will be one of the first cities to enforce the vaccine requirement for young school children when the mandate takes effect Feb. 1.

As the deadline approaches and Covid-19 cases across the country surge amid the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, parents expressed mixed feelings about getting their young children vaccinated.

The mandate, which does allow for exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons, is being met with trepidation by some parents who aren’t ready to get their young children vaccinated against the coronavirus, or do not want their child to receive the vaccine at all, while others welcome the news as a public health measure that could slow the spread of the disease.

Te Smith, 35, an educator in New Orleans and the father of two young children, said his oldest child will turn 5 at the end of February, just weeks after the mandate goes into effect.

He said he believes many parents in New Orleans “are a little nervous about it, especially if you’re talking about underserved schools, because of the mix of information and confusion around the vaccine.”

Smith said he wants to do more research before committing to vaccinating his children.

“Part of me as an educator is like, yes, I think she should get it,” he said. “But then the parent in me is like, no, I think we should register for an exemption until we see what happens to the rest of the country.”

Smith also said he is concerned about schools potentially becoming more lax on other mitigation measures once children are mandated to be vaccinated.

“As a parent, I want her safe. I want her classmates safe. But I’m also terrified. I’m terrified of what that might do to her small body. I’m also terrified of the lapse that may come from having a class vaccinated,” he said.

Because his daughter isn’t yet eligible to be vaccinated, “that gives me some time to do a deeper dive and unpack a little bit of how I feel and what I felt might be the best choice, the best decision for her,” Smith said.

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