The head of the second-largest teacher's union in the U.S. now says that because of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, she is supportive of a coronavirus vaccine mandate for teachers. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), says that although the union initially said vaccines for teachers should be voluntary, circumstances have since changed.

"Things have changed with Delta raging, and with the proximity of the full approval of the vaccines," Weingarten told The New York Times on Thursday. "Because of those two facts, we are considering all alternatives, including looking at vaccine mandates."


"It's all about the North Star being, how do we make sure we keep our communities, ourselves, our families and our students safe?" she said.

Members in leadership roles of the AFT, which boasts 1.7 million members nationwide, are meeting this week to consider a change in policy that is reflective of mandate support.

"Vaccines are the single most important way of dealing with COVID. We've always dealt with, or since 1850, we've dealt with vaccines in schools. It's not a new thing to have immunizations in schools," Weingarten said. "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."

Weingarten mentions that a mandate for teachers wouldn't be a massive undertaking, because a majority of AFT's members are fully vaccinated.

"I think we are probably the most vaccinated profession right now," she said. Weingarten also acknowledged that there are exemptions to vaccination that should be honored, but, ultimately, said that "vaccination is a community responsibility."

With some U.S. students already back in school for the 2021-2022 school year and many more scheduled to start before the end of the month, mask mandates and vaccine availability for those under the age of 12 are on everyone's minds. If teachers are vaccinated, it helps protect a classroom full of young children who can't be yet.

The city of Denver imposed a vaccine mandate on many workers, including school employees, just this week. The state of New York is also considering a vaccine mandate for teachers if virus numbers continue to increase.