A bill that would have required that all Californian public and private school students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination was shelved on Thursday shortly before the first Senate Committee vote on it.
Senate Bill 871, authored by Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), would have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all K-12 students in both private and public schools, as well as those in childcare centers, day nurseries, nursery schools, family day care homes, and development centers. While medical reasons would still be upheld as an exemption, personal belief exemptions would not be included in SB 871.
Senator Pan introduced the bill in January as increased protection for students, teachers, and other school workers, as well as a way to help drastically reduce COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.
“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,” said Senator Pan earlier this year.
However, the bill was immediately met with backlash, with some Democrats joining Republicans and Independents in lambasting the bill. While usual arguments of not agreeing with the state making personal medical decisions were expressed, many disagreed with fast tracking the bill. The elimination of the personal belief exemption also led many who would otherwise support the bill to balk. As the Capitol Resource Institute noted earlier this year, “This fast-tracked bill will require your children to receive a COVID-19 shot to enroll in school. Not only does this bill violate the right of a parent to choose which medical products are injected into the bodies of their children, it also shockingly eliminates your ability to request a personal exemption. In other words, your personal beliefs are meaningless in the eyes of the California legislature. With this bill, Senators Pan, Newman, and Wiener are eliminating all safeguards against tyrannical vaccine mandates.”
SB 871 shelved
Support for SB 871 was further weakened by the rapid fall of COVID-19 cases in the state. In January, California faced a record number of COVID-19 cases with the Omicron variant. In the last few months, the number of cases and deaths, as well as the test positivity rate, hit record lows.
“I actually overheard some staffers talking about what a hard sell the bill would be to constituents, especially with elections this November, with the rates being so low,” explained “Dana,” a staffer in the State Capitol, to the Globe on Thursday. “Between that and other COVID bills either failing or not getting a lot of support, like SB 866, it’s showing a large cooling off on drastic measures. The ones getting support, real support, are the ones looking at preventing damage done by pandemics in the future, so we are more prepared and can protect against lockdowns and help people quicker next time, similar to what Schwarzenegger did after the SARS and bird flu outbreaks in the mid 2000s.”
With a growing lack of support, more broader COVID-19 bills still up in both houses, and a less restrictive state vaccine mandate, complete with personal belief opt out, still in the books, Pan dropped SB 871 on Thursday. Despite this, Pan vowed to continue support for passage of other COVID-19 vaccine and prevention bills.
“I and my colleagues in the Vaccine Work Group will continue to advance policies to protect Californians from preventable COVID disease,” added Pan.
Opponents of SB 871 celebrated the dropping of the bill on Thursday, but noted that other bills still required pressure on them still, with others calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to remove the current state mandate due to COVID-19 rapidly fading away.
“Thanks to overwhelming opposition from California families, SB 871 has been defeated,” said Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) on Thursday. “This is a major victory for students and parents across California who made their voices heard.”
If it had continued, SB 871 was due to have been heard in the Senate Health and Education Committees in the coming weeks.