Newsom said last year that without further legislative changes, California would have to grant broad personal and religious exemptions for the Covid-19 vaccine. He also conditioned his student vaccine mandate on the FDA fully approving the shot for children, not only granting emergency use authorization.
At present, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved for individuals ages 16 and older and has emergency use authorization for ages 5 to 15. Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the FDA to fully approve their vaccine for ages 12 to 15 as well. Because of the FDA contingency in Newsom’s plan, California is not mandating vaccines for students until the fall at the earliest, though some districts have mandated shots on their own.
Pan’s legislation will be silent on FDA approval for now. “I think that’s an area for further discussion,” Pan said, adding that it’s possible the FDA will fully approve a vaccine for school-age children by the time his bill would take effect next January.
Pan has been instrumental in tightening California’s vaccine laws in recent years. He wrote bills that eliminated personal and religious belief exemptions for other school-required vaccines, as well as cracked down on doctors who were allegedly providing waivers without medical cause.
He said his proposal would allow state health officials in the future to mandate vaccines without offering personal or religious exemptions.
The lawmaker is scheduled to hold a press conference Monday, where he’s slated to appear with leaders from the state’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, as well as the California Medical Association, which represents physicians in the state.
During the Omicron surge, state leaders have repeatedly emphasized a desire to keep schools open, despite rampant staff shortages.
In September, the Los Angeles Unified School District mandated Covid vaccines for students ages 12 and older, but backtracked after facing backlash. Some 30,000 unvaccinated students would have been forced into distance learning, a move that critics argued may have disproportionately affected students of color.
San Diego Unified also approved a vaccine mandate this past fall that applied to students who are 16 and older that only allowed for medical exemptions. Both districts have been challenged in court.
Samuel Benson contributed to this report.