Although more than three-quarters of California adults have been immunised against COVID-19, opinions on vaccinating children are more divided. That sentiment was echoed Thursday, when the author of a bill mandating vaccines for all children withdrew the legislation, and then again when state health officials pushed back the date of their student vaccine mandate.
Within hours, the California Department of Public Health announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be added to the list of required childhood vaccines for K-12 public and private school students because it has not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The state had planned to require it for the upcoming 2022-23 school year, but that will now have to wait until at least July 1, 2023.
The health department stated in a statement that even if COVID vaccines for children are fully approved, it will consider the recommendations of a CDC vaccine advisory committee, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, before imposing a school vaccine requirement.
For several weeks, support for Pan’s bill has waned. Another member of the Senate Health Committee, Democratic Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, told the Inland Empire advocacy group Stand Up Ontario last month that she would not vote for the bill.
She claimed to have told Pan, “I just don’t believe now is the right time.” “Our community is too divided,” she said. “I believe that this bill is too divisive.”
Legislators pull bills for a variety of reasons, including a lack of support or because there is another way to achieve the same goal, according to GOP political consultant Mike Madrid.
“If access without the acrimony of mandate is a better way to solve it,” he said. “The point isn’t to disagree; it’s to get to the point where we have public health safeguards.”
Pan’s bill was one of eight aggressive COVID-19-related bills introduced by the Legislature’s vaccine working group, which was comprised of Democratic legislators. Among the bills still pending in the Legislature are proposals to penalise doctors who spread misinformation, to require schools to continue regular COVID testing, and to change the way the state’s vaccination registry operates. A bill that would allow 12- to 17-year-olds to be vaccinated without parental consent is also still in the works.
The COVID vaccine is fully authorised for those over the age of 16, and it can be administered to children as young as 5 under emergency conditions. It has been available for a year, but adoption has been slow. Approximately two-thirds of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated, but the figures for children aged 5 to 11 are much lower, with only about one-third vaccinated.
Pan stated that a mandate is not a priority until the state can make the vaccine more accessible to children, citing the low COVID vaccination rate among children. As a paediatrician, he said that when parents inquire about vaccinations, they want to see their child’s doctor. However, most doctor’s offices do not provide the COVID-19 vaccine and instead refer families to drug stores or non-child-centric vaccination sites.
“At this time, we did not believe it was the appropriate policy for children in terms of COVID-19,” said Christina Hildebrand, executive director of A Voice for Choice. The organisation promotes parental choice and has worked since 2015 to maintain personal belief exemptions for various vaccines. She cites the low rate of COVID vaccination among 5- to 11-year-olds as justification for delaying a mandate.
“Those parents have had numerous opportunities to have their children vaccinated, but the parents are hesitant,” she explained.
Pan stated that it is difficult to demand something that two-thirds of young children do not have.
“Mandates are good at getting you to that final bit when we’re at 80 percent and have to get to 90 percent, not when you’re below half,” he explained. “There’s a reason you’re that far behind. Some of it is because people have questions and want answers, and they want to hear from the person they’ve been going to for a long time to get vaccinated.”
The bills, according to Madrid, foreshadow the possibility of future vaccine mandates as the world becomes more globalised and pandemics become more common.
“There is a desire for more public health protection, not less,” he said. “If you’re going to pass legislation this broad and sweeping, you give it a year and study how you can make it work.” You must ensure that you get it right the first time.”
The mandate, according to Pan, is not dead. He intends to monitor vaccination rates and has stated that it may be something he brings back later.