Cupertino Courier

California plan for student shots fades

- By John Woolfolk jwoolfolk@ bayareanew­

With the pandemic emergency quickly winding down, California officials appear to have quietly backed away from plans to require COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns for K-12 school students, ultimately avoiding the prospect of barring tens of thousands of unvaccinat­ed children from the classroom.

The shift comes 14 months after Gov. Gavin Newsom visited a San Francisco middle school to declare plans to make California the first state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its more than 6 million students.

The vaccine mandate, initially expected to kick in last summer, was put off another 12 months amid flagging youth vaccinatio­n rates that opened a debate over how the requiremen­t would disproport­ionately punish disadvanta­ged students already struggling to recover academical­ly and emotionall­y from pandemic school lockdowns.

Now, with no announceme­nt or explanatio­n, the administra­tion appears to be quietly dropping the COVID-19 immunizati­on mandate altogether. The education news site Edsource reported Feb. 1 that the state would no longer pursue it, citing unnamed officials. When the Bay Area News Group asked whether the state was dropping plans for the mandate, the California Department of Public Health would not directly say but did not dispute the Edsource report, noting that “emergency regulation­s are not being pursued.”

“The legislatur­e considered this issue last year and did not enact legislatio­n mandating COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 students,” the CDPH said in a statement. “The state's COVID-19 state of emergency will terminate later this month, and per the recent announceme­nt by the federal government, the federal public health emergency will end in May.”

Newsom's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But school officials like Superinten­dent Eric Volta of Contra Costa County's Liberty Union High School District weren't surprised and didn't expect the mandate would ever materializ­e for logistical and practical reasons.

“I would have been shocked had they kept pressing forward with it,” Volta said.

Most childhood immunizati­ons, Volta noted, involve a shot or two and that's it. But with the COVID-19 vaccines, whose protection has proven to be temporary, health officials have been urging boosters at least annually, if not more often.

“I don't know how we'd be able to track a vaccine that's given yearly, that's what it comes down to,” Volta said. “It's one thing to have vaccinatio­ns by eighth grade, but a yearly vaccinatio­n? Oh, that would be a challenge to follow up on. And not to mention families being told they can't come to school because you don't have this vaccinatio­n?”

Newsom in October 2021 said his plan was for the mandate to begin with grades 7-12 in July 2022, assuming the Food and Drug Administra­tion by then had granted full approval of the vaccines for ages of students enrolled in those grades. Mandates for K-6 students would follow once the vaccine was fully approved for those ages as well.

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