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California school vaccine mandate coming soon, but questions remain

Credit: Allen J. Walkerocks/Los Angeles Times/Polaris

A nurse gives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Gisele Carrillo, 14, at Eagle Rock High School on August 30, 2021.

California school vaccine mandate comes close to reality with imminent approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

Can students with a personal belief exemption go to school? Will state lawmakers move to repeal some of the exemptions? Will authorization begin after the vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration or when it has received full approval?

Although an advisory board for the Federal Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday recommended that the vaccine be given emergency licensing, that would not be enough to activate the state of California for the vaccine in schools. The new state regulation doesn’t take effect until vaccines for juveniles, ages 12 to 17, and children ages 5 to 11, have been obtained with full FDA authorization.

Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all public and private school students and staff must be vaccinated by July to be on campus. They will no longer be able to be tested as a vaccine alternative unless they qualify for medical or personal belief exemptions.

“We want our kids to go back to school without intermittent shutdowns,” Newsom said Wednesday. “California has outperformed the nation in keeping our children safe for in-person education because of the social and emotional benefits. States that do not follow mask guidelines and vaccination efforts have significantly higher school closures than California.”

The FDA is expected to consider the advisory board’s recommendation and decide over the next week whether to approve the vaccine for emergency use. The children’s vaccine will be given in two doses 21 days apart, the same as the doses for adults and adolescents. But doses will only be 10 mcg – or one-third of the amount of an adult dose.

Once the vaccinations are fully approved, students have until the next semester to complete the vaccinations before they can go to school in person. State officials said July 1 is the earliest date for the mandate to begin.

But the state is not waiting for full approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin vaccinating children whose families want the vaccine. California Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Galley said Wednesday that he expects 1.2 million doses of the vaccine to be available for children ages 5 to 11 in the state once emergency use is approved.

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that Covid-19 is now the eighth killer of young adults.

“So this is not just another thing for the kids to have, to take one for the team,” said Ghaly. “This is about protecting children, prioritizing children, keeping schools, keeping schools safe, and getting back to normal.”

State officials are working with school districts to set up clinics on school campuses so that children can start receiving their vaccinations as soon as possible.

It’s important for parents to vaccinate their children, said California Senator Richard Ban, a pediatrician who chairs the Senate Health Committee. Besides the immediate health risks of Covid-19, which has killed nearly 600 American children, the risks include long-term health problems such as infertility, brain fog and heart inflammation.

“Why would any parent want their child to be a guinea pig, to find out what it would be like to have Covid?” Pan said. “We don’t know what’s going on, what all the long-term effects are.”

In the meantime, much more needs to be done to ensure the smooth implementation of the school vaccine mandate while the vaccine awaits full approval, something that is not likely to happen until at least mid-year, said Ban, who established the 2015 law that repealed personal belief exemptions. for vaccines required to enroll in state K-12 schools, as well as legislation in 2019 that tightened regulations for medical exemptions.

Since the mandate for the Covid vaccine for schoolchildren was created by regulation rather than legislation, it should allow for an exemption for personal belief. Ban said students with these exemptions can attend school in person. He said students who choose independent study, which allows them to study from home, will not have to file an exemption or get a vaccine.

Ban said state officials have not developed rules around exceptions for personal beliefs. Before the state rescinded the personal belief exemption for the other 10 legally required school admissions, families had to go to the doctor to learn about the disease and the vaccine before they could sign the personal belief exemption.

“The law is silent on that,” Ban said of the process for obtaining exemption from the Covid vaccine. “She says she should allow personal beliefs to be excused, but she is silent about this process.”

State lawmakers have indicated they are considering legislation to strengthen vaccine requirements, which could include repealing some exemptions or determining how families can obtain exemptions.

“We’re looking at legislation,” Ban said. “We are identifying a variety of issues that need to be addressed to ensure that we get high vaccination rates in schools and that we keep schools safe. Vaccinations are part of that, as is concealment.”

Ban said amending the state’s health law to add the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations could prove difficult. State health law calls for students to be screened for required vaccinations when they enter kindergarten and again in seventh grade. He said the Covid vaccine, which has waned immunity, will require more frequent checks.

“We designed the law to eventually vaccinate everyone, but we didn’t go after everyone for Covid-19,” Ban said. “We will have to check the status of the vaccine for everyone.”

Ban is not sure the legislation can obtain all the flexibility needed to implement a vaccine mandate that may require regular reinforcements and checks to ensure people are fully vaccinated. Instead, he said, lawmakers could establish guidelines and authority to allow the California Department of Public Health to make adjustments as needed.

Before they write new legislation for a vaccine, he said, lawmakers will talk to stakeholders such as school district officials to determine what kinds of resources they might need to implement the program.

Ban is confident that lawmakers can work through these policy issues before the vaccine is fully approved.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure we have safe schools,” Ban said. “It is not about forcing students to get vaccinated. It is about safe schools.”

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