A California state lawmaker said he wants to ensure that all school students in Los Angeles and throughout the state are vaccinated against Covid-19. To do that, he announced a proposal today to eliminate personal belief exemptions and expand upon a state vaccine mandate.
“We have an opportunity here to keep kids safe,” Sen. Richard Pan, D- Sacramento, said during a California Medical Association news conference at Arleta High School in the San Fernando Valley, where the legislator and pediatrician announced details of the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act.
“As a pediatrician, parent and legislator, I am committed to giving the public confidence and certainty that we are working to prevent or slow down the next coronavirus surge,” Pan said.
“Legislators have the ability to pass laws to make our communities safe, including increasing vaccination rates to keep schools open and safe.”
Under state law, personal belief exemptions must be allowed for any newly-required childhood vaccine unless the legislature passes a law banning them.
Pan said closing the personal belief exemption loophole for the “safe and effective” shots ensures that “every medically-eligible student attending school in person is vaccinated.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a statewide school vaccination mandate, but it will not take effect statewide until a vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Pan’s bill would require the shots even if they are only being offered under an emergency-use authorization by the FDA. Newsom has frequently pointed out that there are already a number of vaccinations required for school children in California.
The California Medical Association tweeted the following support for the measure today: “We know that vaccines are our greatest defense, but too many kids are left vulnerable to this serious disease. CA needs policies to minimize the threat to children. CMA appreciates @DrPanMD’s leadership of for working to protect children’s health and their right to safe schools.”
We know that vaccines are our greatest defense, but too many kids are left vulnerable to this serious disease. CA needs policies to minimize the threat to children. CMA appreciates @DrPanMD's leadership of for working to protect children’s health and their right to safe schools. pic.twitter.com/GPC4jUv1MX
— California Medical Association (@CMAdocs) January 24, 2022
Anyone aged 5 and older is currently eligible for a Covid vaccine, but in Los Angeles only 19% of residents between the ages of 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated.
Los Angeles Unified School District Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly on Monday called vaccine requirements an integral part of keeping students safe, especially those from low-income communities who are disproportionately impacted by the deadly virus.
“All employees at our schools are 100% vaccinated, and nearly 90% of our students 12 and older are in compliance with our vaccine requirement,” Reilly said. The vaccination rates for teens countywide are 74% with two doses and 83% with one. “We have lowered case rates with our students and employees and in our schools because of the many layers of protections and safety measures — but, most of all, because of vaccines.”
She voiced her support for a statewide vaccine mandate.
“With a county as large as Los Angeles, where there are nearly 1.5 million students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade across 80 different school districts, this consistency in health standard will help ensure all of us in the school community are doing our part to keep community transmissions low and ensure a safe school environment for our most vulnerable student populations,” she said.
San Diego Unified Board member Richard Barrera also attended Monday’s news conference. He called a vaccine requirement a “common sense” way to protect students and educators and keep kids in schools.
SDUSD has unsuccessfully tried to implement its own such vaccine mandates for students and staff for the spring semester, but those policies are being held up in the courts.
“The state Legislature does have the authority to require a vaccine mandate,” he said. “What Senator Pan is doing is stepping up and doing what all people following the science understand…We welcome this necessary legislation by our state leaders to help end the roller coaster of the pandemic and allow schools to go back to focusing on what we do best — educating our students.”
The Keep Schools Open and Safe Act builds on SB 277, also sponsored by Pan, which eliminated the personal belief exemption loophole for all other childhood vaccinations required for public and private school students when it became law in 2015.
“The most effective way to keep schools open and safe is to ensure the COVID vaccination rate of students and school staff is as high as possible in addition to masks, testing and good ventilation to minimize infections,” Pan said. “My legislation will give parents great certainty that their child is unlikely to get seriously sick and their school will stay open during COVID.”
In related developments, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced today that weekly Covid testing for students and employees regardless of vaccination status — which was previously going to end at the end of January — will now continue through February.
School district officials also noted that vaccinations remain a key element in reducing the impact of the virus on communities and will be required for students 12 and older at the start of the fall semester of 2022.
LAUSD students are also being required to wear higher-grade, non-cloth masks starting today. The rule calls for “well-fitting, non-cloth masks with a nose wire” at all times, indoors and outdoors. All employees are already being required to wear surgical-grade masks.
District officials said they will continue to provide masks to students and employees at school sites, as needed. And, as with the previous masking requirements, the mask requirements do not apply to people with mask exemptions.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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