California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced late Thursday that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for K-12 students set to begin this year has been delayed to at least July 2023.
The COVID-19 K-12 mandate was first announced by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2021, with a then-high number of cases and deaths. While many called for schools to be more protected to stop the spread of COVID and its variants, Gov. Newsom also said that mandatory vaccinations were to be made for all children in public and private schools wanting to attend.
“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” Governor Newsom said last year. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
However, the mandate was dependent completely on final approval for children by the FDA and CDC, which had been projected sometime in 2022. While the Omicron variant briefly raised the number of COVID-19 cases in California in late 2021 and early 2022, cases have been in a freefall since January 2022, hitting new lows recently in April. The FDA has also been slow on approving the vaccine for children, with falling demand making it less of a priority. In California, several bills trying to set up the mandate through the legislature have failed in recent days, including SB 871, which would have removed the personal belief exemption.
With dwindling support for such a mandate, increased opposition, numerous system-wide implementation problems, and the FDA still struggling to approve the vaccine for children, the Newsom administration made the call on Thursday to push back the mandatory vaccinations by at least 15 months, with their hope that FDA approval will coincide at east 2 months before the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
“So 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 — that we are not moving to have a vaccine requirement for schools in this coming academic year and no sooner than July 2023,” noted Ghaly on Thursday.
Update: Newsom has backed down and will not mandate any student vaccinations this year.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) April 15, 2022
Mandatory K-12 vaccinations pushed back
Despite the pulling of SB 871 and the mandate being pushed back, state health officials noted on Friday that vaccinations, especially those for children, will still be highly encouraged.
“CDPH strongly encourages all eligible Californians, including children, to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” expressed California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director Dr. Tomás J. Aragón in a statement. “We continue to ensure that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by the best science and data available.”
Opponents of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for children celebrated their most win in a recent string of victories against the mandate on Friday, hoping that more setbacks for the state will eventually get rid of the movement.
“It has been happening again and again and again recently,” said Jessica Zorn, a San Bernardino-area parent who has helped organize rallies to end attempts for K-12 mandatory vaccinations, to the Globe on Friday. “The FDA isn’t ready, more parents are turning against this as COVID goes away, and even all these bills up in Sacramento are being pulled out because no one is supporting them. No one is saying that they shouldn’t get vaccinated, but having it forced on, you know, not many people are for that. And we’re really beginning to see that now.”
It is currently unknown when the FDA will approve the COVID-19 vaccine for children.