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'The governor has abandoned his duties' | Texas education official calls for mandatory COVID vaccines

Ruben Cortez Jr. said he wants to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school immunizations citing a number of recent COVID-related deaths in schools.

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas State Board of Education member wants the COVID-19 vaccine added to the list of mandatory immunizations, effective immediately.

Ruben Cortez Jr. made the request in a letter to the Department of State Health Services.

RELATED: See how many COVID cases are in Houston-area school districts

Polio and measles are already among the required immunizations for K-12 students in Texas.

Cortez Jr. cited a number of recent COVID-related deaths among school personnel during this week's State Board of Education meeting.

"You know, the fact is teachers are dying because they're in our school doing the works that needs to be done to educate our kids," he said. "What I don't want is for our children to be next."

The HSHS said it can't require schoolchildren to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under Gov. Greg Abbott's current executive order but it is something the legislature could address.

Here is the full letter:

"As the number of Texans hospitalized with COVID-19 surpasses the previous peak from January 2020, it is impossible to deny that we are a state in crisis. Our hospitals are beyond capacity and our brave health care workers are at a breaking point. This time, our children are at the greatest risk.

"Hospitals across the state are out of pediatric intensive care beds as more children each day become critically ill. This past week, Houston reported its first death of a child with no preexisting conditions. As I write this, millions of children are returning to classrooms where Gov. Abbott has banned the very mitigation strategies that have proven most effective at keeping them safe.

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"It is clear that the governor has abandoned his duties.

"For decades, Texas schools have required immunizations against diphtheria, rubella, mumps, and tetanus, as well as other diseases. Texas law under Sec. 38.001, Texas Education Code, authorizes the Department of State Health Services to “require immunizations against additional diseases as a requirement for admission to any elementary or secondary school.” This authority does not require the governor’s approval.

"Sec. 531.003, Texas Government Code, states that the goal of the Health and Human Services Commission is to “promote the health of the people of this state by reducing the incidence of disease and disabling conditions.” Since the governor has forsaken this responsibility, it is incumbent on you to take immediate action to protect our children and school employees. Now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received full FDA approval and more are on the way, I urge you to add COVID-19 to the list of required school immunizations, effective immediately.

"Our children are more important than politics. I stand ready to assist you in any way possible."