Health

California withdraws plan to require COVID vaccine for students

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Marianne Figueroa, 11, of Sacramento, receives her second COVID-19 vaccination in Sacramento in February. Senator Richard Pan says he is withdrawing a bill that would have prevented students from opting out of required COVID-19 vaccines with personal belief exemptions.

xmascarenas@sacbee.com

California Democrats are shelving a bill that would have prevented students from using personal belief exemptions to opt out of required COVID-19 vaccinations.

Senator Richard Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento, announced Thursday that he is putting Senate Bill 871 on hold because COVID-19 vaccination rates, especially among children, are “insufficient” and “the State must focus its efforts to increase access to COVID vaccines for children through doctors and other health providers who care for children.”

Pan also said California needs to expand “education efforts to give families accurate information about the COVID vaccine.”

Vaccination rates among children lag behind those of the state’s adult population, according to the state Department of Public Health: 33.9% of children ages five to 11 are vaccinated; the rate is double (66.4%) for children between 12 and 17 years of age. The rate for adults age 49 and younger was 77.7% on Tuesday.

“Until children’s access to COVID vaccination improves much, I believe a state policy to require COVID vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority,” Pan said in a statement. “Although it is an appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good access to the vaccine.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom required in October 2021 that all students receive COVID-19 vaccines during the school year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the vaccines for their range old.

Newsom’s order allows students to opt out of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement with a personal beliefs exemption. House Bill 871 would have prevented students from using that exemption to get out of the requirement.

The bill would have added the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines that the California Department of Public Health requires to attend school. It would also have eliminated the rule allowing personal belief exemptions for “any additional immunization requirements the department deems appropriate.”

At this time, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children five years of age and older. It fully approved the vaccine only for people 16 years of age and older.

Pan’s vaccine bill is the second major vaccine bill California Democrats have put on hold this year. Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, also held up Assembly Bill 1993 on March 30, which would have required COVID vaccinations for all employees.

A bill by Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, that would allow children 12 and older to be vaccinated without parental consent remains in the legislative pipeline.

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