California’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren will be implemented, but not until at least the summer of 2023, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.
California was the first state to announce that all schoolchildren would be required to receive the coronavirus vaccine last year. But it hasn’t happened yet because Newsom said he was waiting for the vaccine for school-aged children to receive final approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Newsom estimated at the time that the mandate would go into effect in the 2022-23 school year. However, while federal regulators have approved the use of the coronavirus vaccine for children as young as 5 in an emergency, no one younger than 16 has received final approval. As the school year approached, administrators were concerned that they would not have enough time to implement the vaccine mandate.
“Based on these two facts — we don’t have full FDA approval, and we recognize the implementation challenges that schools and school leaders would face,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in an interview.
The move comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations remain low following the winter outbreak of the omicron variant, but authorities are still struggling to persuade parents to vaccinate their children.
Vaccination rates for children 17 and under are much lower, despite the fact that nearly 75% of California’s population has been vaccinated. According to state data, just under 34% of children aged 5 to 11 have received the vaccine, while just over 66.4 percent of children aged 12 to 17 have received it.
According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, California and Louisiana are the only states that have announced a vaccine mandate for K-12 schools. A mandate exists in the District of Columbia as well.
Louisiana’s mandate allows parents to opt out, whereas California’s mandate allows for medical and personal beliefs exemptions. A doctor’s certification is frequently required for a medical reason. But a personal belief exemption is easier to obtain, often requiring a letter from the student or parent stating their objections.
Sen. Richard Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento who is also a pediatrician, introduced a bill this year in the state Legislature that would have prevented students from using the personal belief exemption to avoid the coronavirus vaccine. However, Pan announced on Thursday that he was holding the bill, which means it will not become law this year, though he did say that increasing child vaccination rates should remain a priority.
Pan did not state that he withdrew the bill due to a lack of support. According to a poll conducted by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, 64 percent of registered voters support coronavirus vaccine requirements for schools, including 55 percent of parents of school-aged children. The poll, which was conducted in February and based on a sample of 8,937 California registered voters, had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
This is the second vaccine-related bill that has failed in the California Legislature this year before it has even been voted on. Buffy Wicks, a Democratic Assembly member, withdrew a bill last month that would have required all California businesses to require coronavirus vaccines for their employees, citing “a new and welcome chapter in this pandemic, with the virus receding for the time being.”
As the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has decreased, state officials have relaxed most of the virus’s restrictions, removing the requirement for masks in schools and other public places.
Other vaccine-related bills are still being debated in the California legislature, including one that would allow schoolchildren aged 12 and up to receive the coronavirus vaccine without their parents’ consent. Vaccines in California currently require parental permission unless they are used to prevent a sexually transmitted disease.