California pauses plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren
California will not require schoolchildren to be immunized for COVID-19 after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that he is pausing a state mandate set to go into effect before the upcoming academic year while an influential Democratic lawmaker said he will drop his bill pushing even stricter inoculation rules.
Newsom made headlines in October when he announced California would be the first state to mandate the vaccine in schools once shots were fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for children ages 12 and older, with the requirement going into effect by July 1. On Thursday, the California Department of Public Health announced that the timeline will be pushed back to at least July 1, 2023, since the FDA has not yet fully approved the vaccine for children and the state will need time afterward to initiate its rule-making process.
Newsom’s office said that after the FDA approves the vaccine for children 12 and older, state public health officials will consider recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups “prior to implementing a school vaccine requirement.”
Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved for ages 16 and older, and there is only an emergency authorization in place for ages 5 to 15, which is a lesser standard than full approval.
“CDPH strongly encourages all eligible Californians, including children, to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” California Department of Public Health Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón said in a statement. “We continue to ensure that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by the best science and data available.”
Newsom’s mandate is limited to grades seven through 12 and allows parents to opt out because of personal beliefs. The state is required to offer broader personal belief exemptions for any newly required vaccine unless it is added through a new law to the list of shots students must receive to attend California schools.
Newsom’s announcement came hours after state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said he will pull from consideration Senate Bill 871, which would have added COVID-19 vaccines to California’s list of required inoculations for attending K-12 schools, prerequisites that can be skipped only if a student receives a rare medical exemption from a doctor.
Pan introduced SB 871 in January, saying it would ensure schools can stay open while offering backup to districts such as Los Angeles Unified that have struggled with their own mandates. He said the state needs to focus on increasing access to COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring families have accurate information about the benefits of inoculation.
“Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a statewide policy to require COVID vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority, although it is an appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good vaccine access,” Pan said.
The bill, however, faced familiar backlash from anti-vaccine activists and parents who said the state should not make medical decisions for their children.
“This is a major victory for students and parents across California who made their voices heard,” said Assemblymember Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), a vaccine mandate critic.
In December, the L.A. Unified school board voted to push back enforcing its mandate from January to this fall, citing concerns over disrupting learning for students. At the time, the district would have had to transfer thousands of unvaccinated students into its online independent study program, which was already struggling.
The district’s mandate will require students 12 and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of the fall semester, unless they have an approved medical exemption or receive a rare extension. In delaying the directive, the district said 87% of eligible students had shown proof of vaccination, obtained a medical exemption or received an extension.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for L.A. Unified, after being asked about Pan scrapping the legislation and the state’s vaccine mandate postponement, said the district “will continue to review, assess and consult with our medical experts as we remain guided by the prevailing science and updated policies from local, state and federal health authorities.”
Pan’s decision to pull his bill marked the second time in recent weeks that a vaccine bill was held. Last month, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said she would suspend action on Assembly Bill 1993, which would have required employees and independent contractors, in both public and private workplaces, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment unless they have an exemption based on a medical condition, disability or religious beliefs. Wicks cited improved pandemic conditions and opposition from public safety unions.
The bill would have required employees and independent contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment unless they have an exemption based on a medical condition, disability or religious beliefs.
The two bills were part of a larger package of legislation introduced by Democratic lawmakers who formed a vaccine working group earlier this year. The bills that remain active include Senate Bill 866 by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which would allow children 12 and up to be vaccinated without parental consent and Assembly Bill 1797 by Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), which would allow California school officials to more easily check student vaccine records by expanding access to a statewide immunization database.
Also moving forward is Assembly Bill 2098 by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell), which would make it easier for the Medical Board of California to discipline doctors who promote COVID-19 misinformation by classifying it as unprofessional conduct.
“I and my colleagues in the Vaccine Work Group will continue to advance policies to protect Californians from preventable COVID disease,” Pan said.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.