California bill would mandate COVID-19 vaccine for K-12 schools, ban personal exemptions

All medically-eligible California students would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend in-person learning without the option for a personal belief exemption under a new bill introduced on Monday. 

The proposal by Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would add the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of required inoculations to attend K-12 schools. If the law is enacted, students could no longer opt out of the vaccine with a personal belief exemption. They would be required to get the vaccine to attend in-person learning or obtain a medical exemption starting Jan. 1, 2023.

Pan said Monday that his bill would ensure schools remain open for all students and provide “confidence and certainty” to parents that their children will be safe from disease in school.

“Students in California are currently required to be vaccinated from many serious diseases to prevent their spread in schools and communities,” Pan said during a news conference Monday. “Given the tragically high number of people, including children and teens, who suffered death and disability from COVID-19, we must make sure our students are vaccinated against COVID as well.”

It’s unclear whether Pan’s bill would apply to private schools, although a 2015 bill he sponsored did remove the exemption for students at private institutions. His office wasn’t immediately available to elaborate. 

“Vaccination is the cornerstone of ensuring our schools stay open and safe,” Pan later added.

Pan’s bill goes a step further than Newsom’s existing directive announced last fall, which will require California students to be fully vaccinated to attend school once the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the COVID-19 vaccine for school-aged children. Newsom’s directive allows students and parents to opt out of the requirement if they claim it violates their personal beliefs.

Pan’s proposal, however, would take away the personal belief exemption, allowing students to be excluded from the mandate only if they have a medical exemption. It would also require students to be vaccinated by Jan. 1 of next year and would take effect even if the Pfizer vaccine remains approved under emergency use authorization.

The bill received support from several medical organizations and advocacy groups, including the California Medical Association. On Monday, Dr. Robert Wailes, president of the CMA, praised Pan’s bill to require the vaccine for students as educators enter another semester of teaching in-person during the pandemic.

“We must do more to stop the spread and evolution of COVID-19 virus,” Wailes said during a news conference Monday. “Vaccines are our greatest defense.

“We’ve come way too far now to ease our fight against COVID-19. This bill will move us forward to help us get ahead of this disease.”

Pan’s proposal is the second piece of legislation to come out of a newly formed Vaccine Work Group composed of several Democratic legislators aiming to develop “evidence-based policies” to slow the spread of COVID-19. Last week, group member Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, unveiled legislation that would allow children 12 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent.

This article was originally posted on California bill would mandate COVID-19 vaccine for K-12 schools, ban personal exemptions

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