Leaders from the Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District came together with State Senator Dr. Richard Pan on Monday morning to announce state legislation that would require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes.
The new legislation, proposed by Senator Pan, would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required inoculations that California students must receive to attend K-12 schools, with the goal of keeping schools safely open during the pandemic.
The bill, which must first proceed through the California state legislature for a vote and be signed into law by Newsom, would require students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Those who do not get vaccinated against COVID would learn remotely with independent study programs, or could be schooled at home.
Anyone aged 5 and older is currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Under state law, personal belief exemptions must be allowed for any
newly required childhood vaccine unless the legislature passes a law banning
Senate Bill 277, the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act would go further than Gov. Gavin Newsom's vaccine mandate for students, would close that personal belief exemption loophole to the required COVID vaccines.
"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."
Parents still have at least a year to plan their child's vaccination against COVID, or to plan for alternatives -- the bill still allows parents to request a medical exemption to the requirement.
"This bill, if it's passed, would go in effect on Jan. 1, 2023," Pan said.
When asked if the bill going into effect is dependent upon full FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines for school-aged children, Pan said, "currently the bill is silent on that issue."
The announcement comes after LAUSD and SDUSD attempted to implement vaccine requirements for their districts, and were faced with legal challenges that paused those efforts.
Pan, Democratic state senator representing Sacramento, is a pediatrician and Chair of the Senate Health Committee. He said he is aware of parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children due to safety concerns and their worries that their children would have to stay home from school if the bill passes.
But he cited the students who are already staying at home, as COVID-19 numbers surge and other parents worry that high case numbers caused by lower vaccination rates will cause their child to become ill and bring the virus back to their families.
The current continued surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant of the virus has forced some SoCal schools to return to remote learning.
He was joined by other school and state officials for the announcement, including Los Angeles Unified Board President Kelly Gonez, Los Angeles Unified Interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly, San Diego Unified Board Member Richard Barrera, and California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D.