Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / Polaris
A nurse gives a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shot to Gizelle Carrillo, 14, at Eagle Rock High School on Aug. 30, 2021.

California’s school vaccine mandate is moving closer to reality with the imminent approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. But regulations around the mandate have left many confused.

Can students with a personal belief exemption attend school? Will state lawmakers move to eliminate some exemptions? Will the mandate kick in after the vaccine is authorized for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration or when it gains full approval?

Although a federal Food and Drug Administration advisory board on Tuesday recommended the vaccine be given emergency use authorization, that won’t be enough to activate California’s school vaccine mandate. The new state regulation doesn’t kick in until vaccines for juveniles, ages 12 -17, and children, ages 5 to 11, are fully authorized by the FDA.

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

“We want our kids back in school without episodic closures,” Newsom said Wednesday. “California has outperformed the nation in keeping our kids safely back for in-person instruction because of the social-emotional benefits. States that don’t follow masking guidance and vaccination efforts have substantially higher school closures than the state of California.”

The FDA is expected to consider the advisory board’s recommendation and decide within the next week whether to approve the vaccine for emergency use. The pediatric vaccine will be given in two doses 21 days apart, like the adult and adolescent doses. But the doses will only be 10 micrograms — or a third the amount of the adult dose.

Once the vaccines are fully approved, students have until the next term to complete their vaccinations before they can attend school in person. State officials have said that July 1 is the earliest the mandate is expected to begin.

But the state isn’t waiting for full approval from the FDA to begin vaccinating children whose families want the vaccine. California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly said Wednesday that he anticipates that 1.2 million doses of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 will be available in the state once emergency use is approved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Covid-19 is now the eighth-leading killer of young people, he said.

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

State officials have been working with school districts to establish clinics on school campuses so children can begin getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

California state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said it is important for parents to vaccinate their children. Along with the immediate health risks of Covid-19, which has killed about 600 U.S. children, risks include long-term health problems like infertility, brain fog and heart inflammation.

“Why would any parent want their child to be the guinea pig, to find out what it is like to be infected by Covid?” Pan said. “We don’t know what happens, what all the long-term impacts are.”

In the meantime, there is still a lot to do to ensure the smooth rollout of the school vaccine mandate while the vaccine awaits full approval, which isn’t likely to happen until at least midyear, said Pan, who authored the 2015 law that eliminated personal belief exemptions for the vaccines required to enroll in the state’s K-12 schools, as well as legislation in 2019 that tightened regulations on medical exemptions.

Because the Covid vaccine mandate for schoolchildren was established by regulation instead of legislation, it must allow for a personal belief exemption. Students with these exemptions can attend school in person, Pan said. Students who choose independent study, which allows them to study from home, won’t have to file an exemption or get vaccinated, he said.

State officials haven’t developed rules around personal belief exemptions, Pan said. Before the state eliminated the personal belief exemption for the other 10 vaccines legally required to attend school, families were required to go to a doctor to learn about the disease and vaccine before they could sign a personal belief exemption.

“The law is silent on that,” Pan said of the process to get the exemption for a Covid vaccine. “It says it has to allow a personal belief exemption, but it’s silent on the process.”

State legislators have indicated they are considering legislation to strengthen the vaccine requirement, which could include eliminating some exemptions or outlining how families must obtain exemptions.

“We are considering legislation,” Pan said. “We are identifying a variety of issues that need to be addressed to ensure we get high vaccination rates in schools and that we keep schools safe. Vaccinations are part of that, as well as masking.”

Amending the state health code to add the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations may be difficult, Pan said. The state health code calls for students to be checked for required vaccinations when they enter kindergarten and again in seventh grade. The Covid vaccination, which has waning immunity, would require more frequent checks, he said.

“We designed the law to eventually get everyone vaccinated, but we weren’t chasing everyone down for Covid-19,” Pan said. “We would have to check everyone’s vaccine status.”

Pan isn’t certain that legislation can capture all the flexibility that would be required to implement a vaccine mandate that may require boosters and regular checks to ensure people are fully vaccinated. Instead, he said, legislators could establish guidelines and authority that allow the California Department of Public Health to make adjustments as needed.

Before they write new vaccine legislation, legislators will talk to stakeholders such as school district officials to decide the types of resources they might need to implement the program, he said.

Pan is confident legislators can work out these policy issues before the vaccine is fully approved.

“Ultimately the goal is to be sure we have safe schools,” Pan said. “It’s not about forcing students to get vaccinated. It’s about safe schools.”

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  1. jessica ruiz 5 days ago5 days ago

    Covid vaccine should be optional as the flu vaccine. People that are healthy getting vaccinated still end up getting Covid and going to the hospital. I was forced to get the vaccine or lose my job, now I have experienced many side effects that are driving me insane. Why would I want a vaccine for my kids that will have many side effects? Even my kids don’t want to get vaccinated.

  2. Mikey 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    “Why would any parent want their child to be the guinea pig, to find out what it is like to be infected by Covid?” Pan said. “We don’t know what happens, what all the long-term impacts are.” I am not a anti-vaxxer. My twin boys are fully vaccinated against all of the required diseases as well as the flu. Those vaccines have been vetted over the decades and were developed using a process much different than … Read More

    “Why would any parent want their child to be the guinea pig, to find out what it is like to be infected by Covid?” Pan said. “We don’t know what happens, what all the long-term impacts are.”

    I am not a anti-vaxxer. My twin boys are fully vaccinated against all of the required diseases as well as the flu. Those vaccines have been vetted over the decades and were developed using a process much different than the MRNA. The covid vaccine has been rushed and the long term effects are unknown. My children will not be receiving the Covid vaccine.

    Like Dr. Pan stated…“We don’t know what happens, what all the long-term impacts are.”

  3. Kelly Miller 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Our school board has voted against the mandate. What does that mean for the school?

  4. julie freeman 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Moved to Texas. No one is dying here. No one is masked. Californians need to stop this blind faith in “government”. Government is just a bunch of other people, who have their own motives and desire for power. Wake up!

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Julie, the population of Texas is 29 million; the population of California is 40 million.
      There have been 4.25 million cases of Covid with 72,278 deaths in Texas. There have been 4.96 million cases of Covid with 72,698 deaths in California.

      If California were like Texas, there would have been a lot more misery and more deaths.

  5. Diogones 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    It’s astounding how many Karens and Kyles in the comment section think they’re more versed in health than a global team of trained professionals. Choosing to die on this hill is beyond selfish considering it will be your children dying on it instead of you.

    Replies

    • Angry Parent 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      My child already had Covid-19 and it was like having a common cold for her. She didn't suffer in any way and now she has natural immunity that her own body created while she was fighting off the virus. We don't know the long-term effects of this vaccine so why would I risk my child's life and reproductive systems for a virus that will not and did not kill her? It is ludicrous the number … Read More

      My child already had Covid-19 and it was like having a common cold for her. She didn’t suffer in any way and now she has natural immunity that her own body created while she was fighting off the virus. We don’t know the long-term effects of this vaccine so why would I risk my child’s life and reproductive systems for a virus that will not and did not kill her?

      It is ludicrous the number of lies people believe. If you want to vaccinate your child by all means do that but do not tell us we are stupid and ignorant because we will not blindly give our children a vaccine we have no idea of how our child will respond to it or what it can do to them in the long run! What happened to my body, my choice?

  6. Darlene Giampaoli 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    How do I get information on vaccine exemption?

  7. Daniel 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    If they force a mandate I will be removing my children. The fact that parents won’t have reservations about this frighten me. We don’t know the long term effects and it’s a 90% rate? The kids already are less likely to get severely ill from this, they are better equipped than a fully vaccinated adult. This has become about control, fight for yours kids and your parental rights.

  8. Megan 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    No to vaccine mandates. California parents are very upset.

  9. Bruce Wayne 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    “We don’t know what happens, what all the long-term impacts are.” What about the long term impacts of a vaccine that was rushed through in mere months? I've had Covid and so have my kids. It was like a mild flu. In fact my kids barely felt anything. We have natural immunity now and from what I have read it is better than the vaccine. We will not be getting vaccinated. And no I'm not … Read More

    “We don’t know what happens, what all the long-term impacts are.” What about the long term impacts of a vaccine that was rushed through in mere months? I’ve had Covid and so have my kids. It was like a mild flu. In fact my kids barely felt anything. We have natural immunity now and from what I have read it is better than the vaccine. We will not be getting vaccinated. And no I’m not an anti-vaxxer. There is just no need for it since we have all already been infected and have natural immunity. The media is lying to you.

  10. Jay 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    We must change the messaging from mandates are coming to encouraging people to vaccinate when they are comfortable and ready. More people will reasonably consider the option when they are given the time to consider it. Let families choose and don’t force them out of a public education; everything can be revisited with additional data and simply time. In the meantime, test everyone. This disease is being spread by the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Let’s … Read More

    We must change the messaging from mandates are coming to encouraging people to vaccinate when they are comfortable and ready. More people will reasonably consider the option when they are given the time to consider it. Let families choose and don’t force them out of a public education; everything can be revisited with additional data and simply time. In the meantime, test everyone. This disease is being spread by the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. Let’s stop some of the spread by people who unknowingly are doing so.

  11. drv 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Michael,
    I agree that we need to do more extensive testing before subjecting our children to a new vaccine. However, I am unable to locate any information regarding children being hospitalized after being vaccinated. I would be very interested in reading this information and these studies. Could you share with us where we can find this info, please?

  12. Adam Hampton 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    It appears that long Covid is a greater risk to humans than a well-tested vaccine for Covid-19. Focusing on mortality rates is short-sighted, as well as a red herring! I think I understand the fear parents have re: vaccinating children; however, with time, this should be assuaged. The mandate doesn't take effect until at least July 2022, after regular authorization from the appropriate health agencies. There will be time for open-minded, well-read … Read More

    It appears that long Covid is a greater risk to humans than a well-tested vaccine for Covid-19. Focusing on mortality rates is short-sighted, as well as a red herring!

    I think I understand the fear parents have re: vaccinating children; however, with time, this should be assuaged. The mandate doesn’t take effect until at least July 2022, after regular authorization from the appropriate health agencies. There will be time for open-minded, well-read parents to do their due diligence and protect their children.

    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Long-Haul-COVID-19-in-Children-and-Teens.aspx

    Anti-vaccination folks are starting to code their language and cherry-pick the data produced by the CDC and FDA, which is also understandable as they see the inevitability of vaccination mandates ending many of the Covid rules we’ve all chafed under.

    Beware of the “I’m not anti-vax, I’m pro-choice” crowd, most of these people would send their kids to school with no vaccines at all, no matter how much time given to do their “research”. Social media has blown their influence into something greater than it actually is. We’d see smallpox and mumps on the regular if they had their way.

    Finally, if you read widely, you understand that this virus is evolving and that we will all be taking either boosters or newer vaccines to alleviate Covid effects, as we will all inevitably contract it. The current vaccines will not prevent the acquisition of Covid, rather ease its disease on folks. 🙂

    Replies

    • Debra 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Beware - I'm not anti vax, I'm pro choice! My kids are also fully vaccinated (with the exception of the covid vaccine) because there has been years of testing and data to prove they are relatively safe - with some acknowledged risk which I the parent get to take into account for my child. Why is this right being taken from me with regards to the Covid vaccine? I think the group of parents willing … Read More

      Beware – I’m not anti vax, I’m pro choice! My kids are also fully vaccinated (with the exception of the covid vaccine) because there has been years of testing and data to prove they are relatively safe – with some acknowledged risk which I the parent get to take into account for my child.

      Why is this right being taken from me with regards to the Covid vaccine? I think the group of parents willing to take their children out of school is larger than you realize. Most people will draw a hard line when it comes to their kids. Also, I myself am fully vaccinated. I was even born and raised in the Bay Area so please don’t lump me with the “alt conservative” group. I’m pretty middle of the road politically speaking and extremely angry my rights as a parent are being taken away.

    • Carrie 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      I absolutely feel for the ill health effects that this girl now is experiencing since her viral infection. The politicians & media have nary acknowledged , the previously infected & recovered people. The immunity of these people is robust & long lasting. The sick & recovered have always been counted in determining herd immunity, except for during this Covid-19 virus. Capo Unified School District didn’t shut the kids out of school for the most part. … Read More

      I absolutely feel for the ill health effects that this girl now is experiencing since her viral infection. The politicians & media have nary acknowledged , the previously infected & recovered people. The immunity of these people is robust & long lasting.

      The sick & recovered have always been counted in determining herd immunity, except for during this Covid-19 virus. Capo Unified School District didn’t shut the kids out of school for the most part. Elementary schools had a full time option, middle school had a half-time option. The majority of students in elementary did full-time school, with a lesser group picking the half day option, & the least amount of students staying 100% online. So really, Capo Unified School District has been the experiment. So many kids were around each other during the height of the Covid pandemic, Sept 2020-June 2021. There were no Covid outbreaks in any of the CUSD schools, no detrimental effects ever took place among the student body or the staff.

      Distancing measures were followed, but these are kids, they were much closer to each other than 6 ft. Practical measures were set into place, then reality followed. The state needs to look at CUSD who’s had in person learning most of the Covid school year. (We started for about a month all virtual while campuses were being prepped for the students.) And during all this masked & attempted social distancing while on campus, guess what kids did outside of school? They had very close contact with their friends at. play dates. We’re on 2 years since this began, the kids have not suffered greatly from the virus & are not threatening transmitters of the virus.

  13. Deborah 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Please contact every legislator in this state, and let them know that we will vote them out of office if they don’t stop this mandate. Even the FDA advisory panel has very strong reservations about the use of this vaccine for healthy children. Why is this being pushed so hard? Schools in California are doing well now. Read the stats on child covid mortality. Very very low.

  14. Teacher and former School Board Member 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Michael, excellent comment. I totally agree. You are right on target

  15. Teacher and Former School Board Member 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Michael, I 100% agree with your comment. It is not the first time Pan has perilously ignored facts. He did this also when he voted against parental rights via SB 673, when parents requested increased oversight for sex ed being taught to their 5-11 year old children. His decision was based on a 30 year old study that did not support his position of no opt out for teaching elementary children sex education. … Read More

    Michael,
    I 100% agree with your comment. It is not the first time Pan has perilously ignored facts. He did this also when he voted against parental rights via SB 673, when parents requested increased oversight for sex ed being taught to their 5-11 year old children. His decision was based on a 30 year old study that did not support his position of no opt out for teaching elementary children sex education. Here is the study that talks about teaching drug prevention to middle schoolers (not Sex Ed to elementary students)… Pan compared apples to oranges to justify his position to decrease parent rights. https://www.rand.org/pubs/notes/N2935.html

    Michael, as psychological scientists say: “past behavior is a useful marker to determine future behavior.” Besides Pan being pro vaccination mandate for children by perilously ignoring the facts you referenced, it’s very significant to note that Pan is not pro-parental rights. In fact, State Supt Thurmond stated that lawmakers are discussing lowering the consent age so students do not need to get permission from their parents to get vaccinated. https://www.abc10.com/article/news/politics/age-of-consent-vaccination-tony-thurmond/103-2858667c-c5f0-4075-926f-af458827a805
    In my opinion, as a parent, public school educator and former school board member, the mass erosion of parental rights in this state (as it relates to education and medical services) is a huge red flag.

  16. Michael Brajkovich 1 month ago1 month ago

    Pan's statements perilously ignore the fact that children are at extremely low risk of mortality from covid-19 to begin with and he also ignores the relative high rates of children hospitalizations following Covid vaccination, compared to hospitalization rates from covid infection. This has been peer-reviewed and confirmed in several studies. We've had coronaviruses for centuries, but have not had mRNA tech for very long, and these vaccines are still in customary "trial period" for another … Read More

    Pan’s statements perilously ignore the fact that children are at extremely low risk of mortality from covid-19 to begin with and he also ignores the relative high rates of children hospitalizations following Covid vaccination, compared to hospitalization rates from covid infection. This has been peer-reviewed and confirmed in several studies. We’ve had coronaviruses for centuries, but have not had mRNA tech for very long, and these vaccines are still in customary “trial period” for another two years at least. It is more risk than benefit to covid-vaccinate our children.

    Replies

    • Eileen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Agreed, Michael. The fact that the education “system,” as well as some parents, might be all too willing to allow their children to be experimented on. Shame on them.