COVID vaccination in California schools would be required under proposed bill
California state Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) on Monday announced legislation to require California students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for in-person school attendance.
Called the “Keep Schools Open and Safe Act,” the bill removes a mandatory personal belief exemption so that the State Department of Public Health is able to enforce vaccination against COVID-19.
“Pundits are declaring a false duality: Shut down schools to stop outbreaks or surrender to COVID by allowing everyone to get infected,” Pan said. “But these are not good options. They both have unacceptable costs from either disruption of education or disability from long COVID or death. That’s not the choice we should be looking at. That’s why we want a third option – a better one – that the availability of a safe and effective vaccine can provide us.”
The bill was announced at Arleta High School in Los Angeles with leaders from Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified school districts, both of which had requirements for students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Mandates work, and they save lives,” LAUSD interim superintendent Megan Reilly said. “A vaccinated person has less severe reaction. The virus is less transmissible if a person is vaccinated. And this reduces the opportunity for the virus to spread and mutate to another variant.”
The bill needs to go through the California legislature and be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in order to become law.
Gov. Newsom has announced a statewide school vaccination mandate, but it will not take effect statewide until a vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Pan's bill would require the shots even if they are only being offered under an emergency-use authorization by the FDA.
The bill’s announcement came after a San Diego judge struck down San Diego Unified School District’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students. Superior Judge John Meyer said the district’s mandate, which does not allow for religious or personal belief, goes against state law. Only the state legislature can implement such mandates without exemptions.
San Diego Unified originally required that all students be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the start of the spring semester. Unvaccinated students would be required to attend school remotely.
The judge’s ruling was spurred by a lawsuit by Let Them Choose, a local parents group that is an offshoot of Let Them Breathe, which opposes mask and vaccine mandates. SDUSD is appealing the ruling.
“The judges have certainly made it clear – legislators have the authority to pass laws to make our communities safe, including increasing the vaccination rate to keep school open and safe,” Pan said. “High vaccination rates, along with testing masks and other measures to stop COVID spread keep our schools open and keep them safe.”
Under state law, personal belief exemptions must be allowed for any newly required childhood vaccine unless the legislature passes a law banning them.
Pan said closing the personal belief exemption loophole for the "safe and effective" shots ensures that "every medically eligible student attending school in person is vaccinated."
San Diego Unified Board member Richard Barrera attended Monday's news conference. He called a vaccine requirement a "common sense" way to protect students and educators and keep kids in schools.
"The state Legislature does have the authority to require a vaccine mandate," Barrera said. "What Senator Pan is doing is stepping up and doing what all people following the science understand … We welcome this necessary legislation by our state leaders to help end the roller coaster of the pandemic and allow schools to go back to focusing on what we do best — educating our students."
Pan previously authored SB 277 which prevented students from claiming personal belief exemption from specific immunization requirements. However, the bill allowed exemption from future immunization requirements deemed appropriate by the State Department of Public Health.