State mandate on COVID-19 student vaccine will not be enacted

The mandate to vaccinate California students against COVID-19 – which has been suspended since April – has been quietly dropped as the state prepares to end emergency pandemic restrictions later this month, have confirmed public health officials.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the policy in October 2021, saying it would eventually apply to all of California’s 6.7 million public and private school children – a move that puts the state at the forefront pandemic safety measures.

But less than a year later, in April 2022, Newsom suspended the mandate and a bill which would have eliminated a personal belief exemption has been withdrawn. At the time, the California Department of Public Health announced that the requirement would be pushed back to at least July 1, 2023, because the Food and Drug Administration had not yet fully approved COVID-19 vaccines for children. State officials also said they would need time to approve specific rules, provide direction to school districts, and give them — and parents — time to adjust.

But since then, the crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus in late 2019 has evolved into a less deadly, more manageable and treatable phase. Although COVID-19 remains widespread – and people continue to die from it – the availability of vaccines and antiviral treatments has mitigated the effects – providing relief to what had been an overwhelmed public health system.

The dramatic decline in deaths and hospitalizations over time gave Newsom confidence to set an end date for the state of emergency on February 28, three years after it was declared.

Almost all of the pandemic restrictions put in place by Newsom have been lifted, and in March he will not be able to issue any new ones with the same unilateral authority.

But the vaccination mandate for school children, a policy of the state Department of Public Health, would not automatically have been modified by the lifting of the declaration of emergency.

Even so, the same underlying events played into the decision to end the declaration of emergency and the student vaccination mandate. The California Department of Public Health has not said when it ended its search for a mandatory vaccine.

“The CDPH is not currently exploring the development of emergency rules to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of required school vaccinations,” the department said in a statement.

Public health officials, in response to a follow-up question, said their statement “simply confirms what has been clear for some time: that emergency regulations are not being enforced,” adding that the move “corresponds to the recent announcement to end the health emergency in the coming months.

While the acknowledgment of the policy change has symbolic meaning for many, the practical effect is negligible. State officials have taken no steps toward a mandatory vaccine since the effort was postponed about 10 months ago.

Moreover, if the health department had moved forward, it would have enacted a mandate with a gigantic loophole: a personal belief exemption. Families could have avoided the vaccine simply by submitting a note. Officials concluded that closing the personal belief exemption would require legislation from the state legislature — and a bill to that end was withdrawn in April 2022.

The governor’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment and clarification.

The end of the mandate is not a repudiation of the vaccine for children.

“Vaccination against COVID-19 is an important tool in keeping our children healthy and schools open,” the department’s statement said. “Health officials strongly recommend vaccinating students and staff against COVID-19 to prevent hospitalization and other serious complications, including death. Widespread vaccination has helped keep California children in school to learn and strengthen social bonds. Turnkey mobile immunization services remain available to all K-12 schools across the state.

Parents are divided on the issue. Some oppose the vaccine under all circumstances; some are in favor of it but do not like the mandate; others want the mandate to have been implemented.

The announcement was good news for Jonathan Zachreson, a father of three who lives in Roseville. Zachreson founded the group Reopen California Schools to oppose many of the state’s pandemic policies. His activism led to him being elected to the Roseville City School District Board in November.

“It is long overdue. … Many families have been stressed by this decision and have been concerned about it for some time,” he said. “I wish the CRPD would make a bigger public statement or Newsom would make a public statement…for let families and school districts know that this will no longer be an issue for them.”

U.S. Representative Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), a former state Assemblyman who challenged Newsom in a failed recall attempt in 2021 over his pandemic policies, posted a blog post stating : ” We won. To Gavin Newsom: You lost.

Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist representing most of the state’s school districts, said he didn’t believe the policy change was the result of political pressure from Republicans but a reflection of slowing coronavirus transmission.

“The public’s appetite for these kinds of mandates is certainly not what it used to be,” he said. It makes no sense “to impose a heavy mandate now when transmission volume is significantly lower than it was statewide. A one-size-fits-all solution does not work at this time. »

Associated Press reporter Adam Beam and Times staff writer Taryn Luna contributed to this story.

Los Angeles Times

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