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California Democrat proposes COVID vaccine mandate for schools — with no exemptions

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A California Democrat with a history of supporting tough vaccine requirements for schools put forward a bill Monday that would remove exemptions from the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for school children.

State Sen. Richard Pan (D) is proposing that COVID-19 vaccines be added to California's list of required inoculations for attending K-12 schools. His bill would override the vaccine requirements implemented by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last October, removing personal or religious exemptions. It would also not be contingent on the vaccines receiving full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning vaccines that currently only have emergency use authorization from the FDA would be mandatory for California children to attend school.

“We need to make sure schools are safe so that all parents are comfortable sending their children to school,” said Pan, a pediatrician, in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “And we want to keep schools open.”

Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been fully approved for individuals ages 16 and older and was granted emergency use authorization for ages 5 to 15. The vaccine manufacturer asked the FDA to fully approve its vaccine for ages 12 to 15 in December.

Under Newsom's mandate, students in grades seven through 12 are required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but parents have the option of applying for a personal or religious exemption for their children. Additionally, the mandate will not take effect until the FDA grants the vaccine full approval for children ages 12 and older.

But Pan's bill does not consider whether the FDA fully approves the vaccine before it takes effect. And parents would not be given the option to cite personal or religious exemptions from having their children vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We should be having conversations about what’s best for our children and what’s best for the safety of schools,” Pan said.

He acknowledged to the Times that the language about FDA approval is "something we're still working on." He also admitted his bill does not address COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

“That’s one of the things we’ll have to work out,” he said.

Pan's bill would also delegate authority to the California Department of Public Health to mandate vaccines in the future without requiring the state to offer personal belief exemptions, the Times reported.

The bill is the second major piece of legislation to be offered by the state Senate's Vaccine Work Group caucus, which was formed to advance bills intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and combat vaccine misinformation. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D), another member of the working group, introduced a bill last week that would allow any child 12 or older to consent to receive a vaccine approved by the FDA without parental permission or even notice.
The Times reported that both bills are expected to meet opposition from groups opposed to vaccine mandates and other parental rights activists. Previous vaccine bills have led to heated confrontations, protests, and arrests, the paper noted.
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