COVID vaccine mandate kicks the bucket for schools

California Department of Public Health says they are no longer pushing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for K-12 students as state of emergency ends

TULARE COUNTY – As the state of emergency comes to a close this month, so does the possibility for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools.

The vaccine mandate for students, which Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced amid the peak of a worldwide pandemic in 2021, will no longer be enacted. This month, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a statement which explains that as the state of emergency ends, so do COVID-19 regulations, including the plan for a vaccine mandate in schools.

“CDPH is not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of required school vaccinations, but we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom. Any changes to required K-12 immunizations are properly addressed through the legislative process,” CDPH said in a statement.

This comes after a time when parents in Tulare County, especially those with the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) were publicly vocal about their opposition to a vaccine mandate for students. After parents lined school board meeting chambers on and off for nearly two years, those who share anti-vaccine sentiments have yet another victory, as the mandate plans fizzle out.

“COVID-19 immunization is an important tool for keeping our kids healthy and schools open. Health officials strongly recommend immunization of students and staff against COVID-19 to prevent hospitalization and other serious complications,” the CDPH said in a statement.

The vaccine mandate had a long road ahead of it before it could have been implemented. It was already pushed back to 2023-24 last year after having been introduced long before. However, the clock ran out on the mandate, as the state of emergency ends on Feb. 28, and after that, Newson will no longer be able to implement COVID regulations. It was a turbulent few years of parents and organizations, such as Unmask Tulare County, flocking to VUSD school board meetings and town halls to oppose the mandate, among other regulations.

During a town hall meeting in Exeter on Nov. 2, 2021, parents swarmed the Exeter Women’s Club to capacity to chime in on the potential mandate in schools. Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, Tim Hire, was in attendance, and had said if parents are not approved for an exemption to the vaccine mandate, then students will be forced into independent study, but others might have to take “the jab” to keep their kids in school so they can go to work. However, this year Andre Pecina, the VUSD administrator of outreach and communications, said that this was never the case since the mandate failed to be implemented before the state of emergency ended. 

Even the Tulare County Board of Supervisors pushed against certain vaccine mandate details, such as Senate Bill 871, which would have added COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations required to attend K-12 schools and remove the medical and personal belief exemptions for all vaccines. The board signed a letter of opposition over the bill, which garnered support from parents and anti-mask groups within the county at their March 2022 meeting. Luckily for them, the bill died in the senate.

“Removing that exemption and not allowing people to choose to not have their kids vaccinated in order to attend school in the state of California is absolutely ridiculous, and I can’t believe this is even being considered by the legislature,” Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said in the March meeting.

Many community members, including the president of the local anti-vaccine group Unmask Tulare County, Jimmy Malloy were vocal about the bill’s restrictive nature. Community member Pamela Silva was among the parents who opposed the bill, and claimed that the vaccine is harming children through strokes and heart attacks.

“We’re at war with our own government and I would like to see at least our local representatives acknowledge that.” Silva added, “I think you are [acknowledging war with the government], but I think it’s time to be proactive and do something harder against what’s going on.”

The CDPH still recommends students and teachers receive the vaccine and will continue operating their mobile vaccine trucks. They also said that health officials recommend immunization of students to prevent “hospitalization and other serious complications, including death.”

“Widespread vaccination has contributed to keeping California children in school to learn and to strengthen social connections,” the CDPH said in a statement.

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