A bill that would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccines to attend school, as well as close the exemption loophole, was introduced to the Senate on Monday.
According to the bill’s author, Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), all schoolchildren would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by 2023. The vaccine would be added to the current list of inoculations to attend public or private school in California between K-12. Unlike previous vaccine mandates, the bill would not be contingent on U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
In addition, the bill, also known as the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act, would supersede Governor Gavin Newsom’s October vaccine mandate for school children. While it would require the vaccine like the mandate, it would expand and remove the medical and religious exemptions, something that a Governor cannot do but that the Legislature can.
The new bill will closely follow SB 277, the 2015 law that removed personal belief exemptions from vaccines that were required for public and private schools in 2015. As Senator Pan noted on Monday in a press release, following the passage of SB 277 7 years ago, vaccines drastically increased among school-age children.
Senator Pan wrote the bill that was introduced on Monday not only to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates like what SB 277 did for measles and other diseases, but to keep schools open in the coming years in case of any future COVID-19 outbreaks.
“As the parent of two school students, I understand parents need confidence and certainty that their child’s school is safe and can be in-person,” said Senator Pan on Monday. “The most effective way to keep schools open and safe is to ensure the COVID vaccination rate of students and school staff is as high as possible in addition to masks, testing, and good ventilation to minimize infections. My legislation will give parents great certainty that their child is unlikely to get seriously sick and their school will stay open during COVID.”
“We need to make sure schools are safe so that all parents are comfortable sending their children to school. And we want to keep schools open. We should be having conversations about what’s best for our children and what’s best for the safety of schools.”
Support and opposition against the bill
Health and school officials praised the new bill on Monday and vowed to support it in the coming months.
“Keeping our students and employees as safe as possible has been a top priority for Los Angeles Unified during the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted Los Angeles Unified Board President Kelly Gonez. “We have maintained continuity of instruction while establishing the largest school-based COVID-19 testing program and keeping more than 1,400 schools open since August 16, our first day of school. The science is clear – vaccinations are an essential part of protection against COVID-19. Los Angeles Unified applauds the nearly 90 percent of our students aged 12 and older and their families who are in compliance with our vaccine requirement. Senator Pan’s bill will support widespread student vaccination and ensure local educational agencies across the state can safely and effectively navigate the pandemic. A statewide vaccine mandate will promote uniform health and safety protocols and is aligned with the intent of other existing vaccination statutes.”
California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes also approved of the bill on Monday, explaining that “As COVID cases and hospitalizations of children are rising due to more infectious variants, we know that vaccination is our greatest defense. Too many children are not yet fully vaccinated and are left vulnerable to this serious disease. California needs policies to minimize the threat of COVID-19 to children, and the California Medical Association appreciates the leadership of Dr. Richard Pan for working to protect children’s health and their right to safe schools.”
Parent and school groups, who are currently fighting against the SB 866 12-year-old and up vaccine consent bill, came out in opposition to Pan’s bill on Monday, saying that it went too far and that exemptions had been added for a reason.
“This new bill just proves that California politicians don’t give a damn about people’s rights,” said Chip Garnett, a parental group leader at a school district in San Diego County, to the Globe on Monday. “You could have a legit medical problem or a religious belief that won’t allow a vaccination, but this bill pretty much says ‘This tramples over your religious rights.'”
“And not only that, it’s another vaccine our kids have to get. That part isn’t so big, but just the thought that a vaccine, which according to the bill would not need FDA approval, be added as a regular inoculation is astounding. I’m beginning to think that Dr. Pan’s medical degree is only an honorary one, because other doctors have told us that exemptions are needed for some kids who may not be able to handle the vaccine. A lot of kids don’t have great reactions to them. They can be out for days, get chills that last a long time, boil up, and all sorts of other things. I know that that’s just the bodies reaction, but seriously, no other tried and tested vaccine does that to that extent.”
“You can bet we’ll be against this bill every step of the way. And if does pass, well, you know how homeschooling shot up last year in California because of parents tired of all these restrictions and mandates? Well, with this bill covering private schools too, parents who don’t want this for their kids will either have to move out of state or home school. There’s no real great outcome here.”
Sen. Pan’s bill is expected to be heard in the Senate in the coming months.