California reverses course on COVID-19 vaccine mandate for schools
California is no longer going to make K-12 school students get the COVID-19 vaccine to attend classes, in a reversal from a plan that riled many parents in Tuolumne County and elsewhere in the state when it was announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom more than a year ago.
The state Department of Public Health confirmed in an email on Monday that it is “not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of required school vaccinations,” citing the decision to end the state’s coronavirus state of emergency on Feb. 28 after nearly three years.
However, the department stated it will continue to “strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom” and left the door open for the shots to be required through action by the state Legislature sometime in the future.
“Any changes to required K-12 immunizations are properly addressed through the legislative process,” the CDPH’s statement concluded.
Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Zack Abernathy could not be reached Monday for comment on his reaction to the news and whether it has any impact on planning for the next school year.
The requirement was originally set to begin for the current school year, but was delayed by 12 months amid concern about it further hurting some students who are still struggling from the effects of pandemic-related school closures.
As originally announced by Newsom in October 2021, the policy would have applied to all of the nearly 7 million children in the state attending both public and private schools.
Some school officials in the state have since expressed that enforcing such a mandate would be a challenge compared to other required immunizations, due to the COVID-19 vaccine’s waning immunity and need for multiple shots.
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The plans drew outrage from some parents fearful about the potential of unknown future side effects from COVID-19 vaccine.
Several well-attended protests at Courthouse Square in Sonora were organized over the past couple of years by parents opposed to the vaccine mandate and other state coronavirus policies for schools.
Still, the state Department of Public Health stated that the COVID-19 vaccine remains “an important tool for keeping our kids healthy and schools open.”
“Health officials strongly recommend immunization of students and staff against COVID-19 to prevent hospitalization and other serious complications, including death,” the department stated on Monday. “Widespread vaccination has contributed to keeping California children in school to learn and to strengthen social connections.”
Turnkey mobile vaccination services will remain available for any K-12 school within the state despite the reversal in policy from the mandated immunizations, according to the department.
Tuolumne County’s vaccination rate remains below the state as a whole, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 75% of California’s eligible population ages 5 and up had completed the primary series of the first two COVID-19 vaccine doses, while less than 53% of Tuolumne County’s population had done the same as of Monday.