• Fri. Jun 9th, 2023


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A California legislator ended his efforts to pass a vaccine mandate for students.

A bill that would have required all California students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, eliminating a personal belief exemption that has been used to circumvent similar mandates, was pulled by its legislative sponsor on Thursday.

Another mandate, by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will still take effect once a vaccine is formally approved for children. But unlike the governor’s mandate, the bill pulled by State Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician, would have allowed only medical exemptions.

Dr. Pan, who spearheaded an earlier tightening of vaccine laws in California, had struggled to get support this year from fellow Democrats, who expressed concern about political backlash while coronavirus rates in the state are relatively low. They worried that anger from the state’s vocal anti-vaccine lobby could accelerate a concerning decline in student enrollment and complicate the party’s chances in the 2022 election.

Last month, a vaccine mandate for California employers was also shelved by its sponsor when Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat, cited falling case rates and opposition from organized labor.

Kevin Gordon, a longtime lobbyist for California school districts, said this week that school mandates for Covid inoculation “were in trouble” because of legislative deadlines and the impending elections.

“There’s a sort of Covid mitigation fatigue,” Mr. Gordon said. “People are just sort of done with it now.”

Dr. Pan said in a statement that vaccination was “the cornerstone of safer schools and neighborhoods during Covid,” but that he had pulled the bill because child vaccination rates were low and the state needed to focus on improving access to vaccines.

Eighty percent of adults in California are fully vaccinated — which does not include a booster — against the coronavirus, but only 35 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received shots. Seventy-two percent of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated.

“Until children’s access to Covid vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a statewide policy to require Covid vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority,” Dr. Pan said.

The bill, S.B. 871, had not advanced since February.

The governor’s vaccine mandate for students, which is contingent on the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval for the vaccine for the relevant age groups, will not take effect any earlier than July 2023, his office said on Thursday. At the moment, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is fully approved for those 16 and older. For those ages 5 to 15, the F.D.A. has authorized it only for emergency use.

Governor Newsom’s mandate will require a coronavirus vaccine for students in seventh to 12th grades, and then for those in kindergarten to sixth grades, once one is fully authorized for all children in those groups.

Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, California’s public health officer, said in a statement about the delayed mandate that the state encouraged all people to be vaccinated.

“We continue to ensure that our response to the Covid-19 pandemic is driven by the best science and data available,” Dr. Aragón said. He added that “California is making informed decisions on how to further protect students and staff, to keep children safely in classrooms.”

When Mr. Newsom, who is running for re-election, announced the mandate that will add the coronavirus vaccine to a list of required school vaccines, state law required the inclusion of a personal belief exemption. It can be eliminated only by legislative action.

Shawn Hubler contributed reporting.