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Florida private school says teachers who get COVID-19 vaccine won’t be allowed to return next year

Coronavirus

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(CNN) — A Miami private school has asked its employees to wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine until the end of the school year, but still cautioned that if they do, they won’t be allowed to return next year, the school told staff this month.

The school’s CEO and co-founder Leila Centner sent a letter to faculty and staff at the Centner Academy citing unsupported assertions about COVID-19 vaccines that contradict a large body of evidence of the vaccines’ safety and efficacy from the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.

All four agencies, backed by extensive research, have confirmed that vaccines are the best method of defense against COVID-19 and contagious variants that can cause severe illness.

But the school is ignoring the advice and guidance from the state and federal governments, as well as the Miami-Dade Health Department, which all urge everyone 16 and older to be vaccinated.

Centner claimed in the letter that “it will be years before we have reliable information regarding the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.” The FDA issued emergency use authorization for three vaccines after extensive testing showed they were both safe and effective.

The letter makes other unsubstantiated claims about adverse reactions non-vaccinated people could have by “interacting with people who have been vaccinated” that have not been identified in or supported by research by the CDC, FDA, NIH or WHO.

Centner concluded by asking employees to “please wait until the school year ends” to get vaccinated. Teachers who are vaccinated after the school year ends “will not be able to return to school until clinical trials are complete (if a position is still available at that time),” she wrote.

The letter did not specify which clinical trials she meant. Clinical trials in adults were completed for all three vaccines to satisfy the FDA’s emergency use authorization requirements. As part of the process to seek full FDA approval, companies must continue their adult clinical trials for two years and continue to report safety and efficacy data as they get it. Clinical trials in children have recently begun.

She asked employees who were vaccinated before mid-April to report their vaccination status to the school. And faculty and staff who still want to get the vaccine before the end of the school year must immediately alert the school, “as we cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known,” Centner wrote.

In a statement to CNN, the Centner Academy said it’s “not 100% sure the COVID injections are safe and there are too many unknown variables for us to feel comfortable at this current time.”

CNN has reached out to school staff and parents of students for comment on the letter and is waiting to hear back.

The school says it supports ‘medical freedom from mandated vaccines’

When it opened in 2019, the Centner Academy, co-founded by Centner and her tech executive husband, David, described itself as the “first happiness school,” with an emphasis on mindfulness. Nearly 300 students attend the school, which offers preschool through middle school, with tuition peaking at $29,850 before fees, according to the school website.

The school, which pivoted to online learning in March 2020 but reopened its facilities in September, supports “medical freedom from mandated vaccines,” according to a post on its website. That post, too, cites unsubstantiated claims about vaccines in general.

Vaccine mandates are considered necessary to prevent the transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases among school-age children, according to the CDC. States and local governments decide which vaccines to require among students, and in Florida, those include vaccines for polio, hepatitis B and measles, mumps, rubella and others.

Many private and public universities are taking the opposite approach of Centner Academy, requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to campus in the fall. Colleges like Duke, Syracuse, New York University and the University of California school system have made vaccines mandatory for students who plan to attend in-person classes.

A CDC study shows teachers can drive school COVID-19 cases

Research suggests that while in-person schooling can be safe if teachers and students are masked and maintain social distancing, teachers may also drive school-related COVID-19 outbreaks. A CDC study published in late February investigated outbreaks at six public elementary schools in Georgia and found that teacher-to-student transmission that likely originated from educators first spreading the virus amongst themselves accounted for half of the school-associated COVID-19 cases.

At the time, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the findings show how important it is for schools to strictly adhere to the CDC’s five key COVID-19 mitigation strategies, in addition to highlighting “the importance of scaling up vaccination efforts across the country, including the continued need to prioritize teachers and other school staff for vaccination.”

A crucial part of in-school safety depends on teachers and staff getting vaccinated, said Dr. Nathaniel Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital and president at HSC Health Care System, a system of pediatric hospitals, home health and rehab centers in Washington, DC.

“We know that schools are not a no-risk zone,” Beers said. “What we also know is that the vaccine is an important strategy for reducing that risk in school buildings.”

In its guidelines for safely reopening schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages school districts to provide an adequate supply of vaccines to school faculty, staff and when they’re eligible, students.

It’s especially important for teachers and school staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to prevent the transmission of contagious B.1.1.7 variant, which appears to have an increased risk of spread among young people compared to the original novel coronavirus, Beers said.

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