The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) confirmed earlier this month that children in that state will not be required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to attend school. Governor Gavin Newsom originally announced that California would be the first state to require COVID shots for K-12 students attending public and private schools, but that decision has now been reversed.1 2 According to a CDPH statement:
CDPH is not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 to the list of required school vaccinations, but we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom.1
The change comes on the heels of many years of advocacy efforts in California by users of the free online NVIC Advocacy Portal and from families like that of Jonathan Zachreson, a father of three children who founded the group Reopen California Schools, which has opposed many of the California government’s COVID policies. “This is long overdue. A lot of families have been stressed from this decision and worried about it for quite some time,” Zachreson said. “I wish CDPH would make a bigger statement publicly or Newsom would make a public statement… to let families know and school districts know that this is no longer going to be an issue for them.”1
A recent survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation found that 35 percent of parents continue to oppose routine vaccination requirements and believe they should have the authority to opt out of school vaccine mandates—a stance that, prior to the pandemic, was only held by 16 percent of adults.3 4 5
COVID Vaccination Requirements in California Will Be Left to Legislative Process
State public health officials also said that any further changes made to the newly reversed COVID vaccination requirement will be “properly addressed through the legislative process.”6 Historically, California has not only set precedent for mandatory vaccination requirements and legislation for the rest of the country but the state also paved the way with implementing federally recommended pandemic masking, lockdown and vaccine use policies, being the first state in the U.S. to issue statewide stay-at-home orders.7
One legislative precedent was Senate Bill 277, which was passed by the California legislature in 2015 despite strong opposition from thousands of parents and health care professionals who repeatedly showed up at public hearings on the bill and held rallies and protests opposing the elimination of the personal belief vaccine exemption (religious and philosophical). The bill passed after a highly publicized outbreak of measles in 2014 at Disneyland,8 leaving only a narrow medical exemption on the table. Despite its highly-vaccinated population, San Diego also experienced a measles outbreak six weeks before the Disneyland outbreak.11
To date, almost all of the pandemic restrictions enacted by Gov. Newsom have been lifted. He will no longer have unilateral authority to issue new restrictions as the state’s COVID emergency declaration officially ends on February 28.12
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1 Associated Press. California backs down from requiring COVID-19 vaccine to attend schools. CBS News Feb. 3, 2023.
2 Office of Governor Gavin Newscom. California Becomes First State in Nation to Announce COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements for Schools. Oct. 1, 2021.
3 Lopes L et al. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: December 2022. Kaiser Family Foundation Dec. 16, 2022.
4 Hendler C. FDA Approves U.S. Babies and Young Children to Get Omicron COVID Booster Shots. The Vaccine Reaction Jan. 11, 2023.
5 Hoffman J. Opposition to School Vaccine Mandates Has Grown Significantly, Study Finds. The New York Times Dec. 16, 2022.
6 Associated Press. CA no longer pursuing COVID vaccine mandate for K-12 schools, public health department says. ABC 7 Feb. 3, 2023.
7 Karimi F. California orders its nearly 40 million residents to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. CNN Mar. 20, 2020.
8 Richardson D. The Fallout from California SB 277: What Happens Next? The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 16, 2015.
9 Sugerman D et al. Measles outbreak in a highly vaccinated population. Pediatrics 2010; 125(4): 747–755.
10 Associated Press. In wake of pandemic, record 40 million kids missed measles vaccine dose last year, CDC and WHO say. PBS NewsHour Nov. 23, 2022.
11 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles Cases and Outbreaks. Feb. 6, 2023.
12 Beam A. Governor to end California coronavirus emergency in February. AP News Oct. 17, 2022.