California delays coronavirus vaccine mandate for schools


FILE – A young person receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a pediatric vaccination clinic for children ages 5 to 11 set up at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, announced Thursday, April 14, 2022, that he was withdrawing his bill that would have prevented parents from obtaining exemptions for their child based on personal beliefs. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)


California is sticking to its coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren, but that won’t happen until at least the summer of 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration announced Thursday.

Last year, California was the first state to announce that it would require all school children to receive the coronavirus vaccine. But that hasn’t happened yet because Newsom said he’s waiting for U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulators to give the vaccine final approval for school-aged children.

At the time, Newsom estimated the term would take effect at the start of the 2022-23 school year. But while federal regulators have authorized the use of the coronavirus vaccine for children as young as 5 in an emergency, it has still not given final approval to anyone under 16. .

As the schedule moves closer to the fall, school administrators feared there might not be enough time to implement the vaccine mandate.

“So based on those two facts — we don’t have full FDA approval, and we recognize the implementation challenges that schools and school leaders would face — that we’re not going to not have a vaccine requirement for schools in the next school year and not until July 2023,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in an interview.

The move comes at a time when coronavirus cases and hospitalizations remain low after the winter surge of the omicron variant, but also as authorities struggle to convince parents to vaccinate their children against the virus.

While nearly 75% of California’s population has been vaccinated, rates among children 17 and under are much lower. Just under 34% of children ages 5 to 11 have received the vaccine, while just over 66.4% of children ages 12 to 17 have received it, according to state data. .

“From the standpoint of keeping kids in school, it was the right decision,” said Christina Hildebrand, president and founder of A Voice for Choice Advocacy, a group that opposes vaccination mandates. “The number of unvaccinated children, and if they had been taken out of school, would have been a much bigger disaster.”

California and Louisiana are the only states to have announced a vaccination mandate for K-12 schools, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. The District of Columbia also has a mandate.

Louisiana’s mandate includes an opt-out option for parents, while California’s mandate would allow exemptions for medical reasons and personal beliefs. A medical reason often requires proof from a doctor. But a personal belief exemption is easier to obtain, often requiring a letter from the student or parent stating their objections.

State Sen. Richard Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento who is also a pediatrician, drafted a bill in the state Legislature this year that would have barred students from using the personal belief exemption to avoid the coronavirus vaccine. But on Thursday, Pan announced he was withholding the bill – meaning it won’t become law this year – although he said there should still be a focus on raising rates. vaccination of children.

“Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe a statewide policy requiring COVID vaccination in schools is not the priority. immediate, although this is appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good access to vaccines,” Pan said in a press release.

Pan did not say he withdrew the bill due to lack of support. A poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 64% of registered voters support coronavirus vaccine requirements for schools – including 55% of voters who are parents of school-aged children. The poll was released in February based on a sample of 8,937 registered voters in California, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

It is the second vaccine-related bill to fail the California Legislature this year before it even passed. Last month, Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks withdrew a bill that would have required all California businesses to require coronavirus vaccines for their employees – a move she attributed to “a welcome new chapter of this pandemic, with the virus in decline at the moment”.

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have declined, state officials have removed most virus restrictions, no longer requiring masks in schools or other public places.

“Certainly a lot of parents are thrilled that Senator Pan is withdrawing this bill. It’s one less thing they have to worry about,” said Jonathan Zachreson, the parent of three high school students who founded the advocacy group Reopen California Schools. “The fact is that children aged 5 to 11 have had access to vaccines for some time and their low uptake, I think, clearly shows what parents think about the vaccine.”

Other vaccine-related bills are still pending in the California Legislature, including one that would allow school children 12 and older to receive the coronavirus vaccine without parental permission. Currently, California requires parental permission for vaccines unless they are specifically intended to prevent a sexually transmitted disease.


Associated Press reporter Don Thompson contributed.

Lynn A. Saleh