They’re the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all students. And I do mean all students, public and private. Parents who are hoping to keep their public-school child unvaccinated by enrolling him or her in private school instead are out of luck.
Which is great news for families in 49 of America’s 50 states. California’s about to conduct a massive real-time experiment into just how safe the vaccines are for children. Their results will improve your own decision-making.
As for parents in California: Er, best of luck to you and your little ones.
I’ll say this for Newsom. We can’t pretend that he’s blindsiding his constituents with this policy, right? Not only has he been heavy-handed with COVID restrictions throughout the pandemic, he campaigned against Larry Elder in the recall by warning Californians that electing a Republican would mean the end of mandates. That pitch produced a landslide victory. Blue-staters are risk-averse and therefore pro-restriction and very, very pro-vax. Now we’re going to find out how pro-vax they are.
Note, however, that the mandate won’t take effect until the vaccine is fully approved for kids. Right now it’s only authorized for emergency use among children aged 12-15, which means we’re still many months away from full approval. And for younger children, there isn’t even an EUA yet. It may not be until next summer or later before full approval for the vaccine in their age group is granted.
CA Gov. Newsom on new school mandate: "We require for mumps and measles and rubella and so many other diseases… Yet there's something about this disease that's become so polarized and so divisive. It's tragic." https://t.co/7q1WY7xFbF pic.twitter.com/exlToqgyGG
— The Hill (@thehill) October 1, 2021
Details from the LA Times:
Once in effect, students will not be allowed to attend classes in-person on campus without being vaccinated, just as with any other required childhood vaccine. Medical and religious exemptions would be available…
54% of adolescents age 12 to 15 have received at least one dose of vaccine, as have 62% of 16- and 17-year-olds. If there was a safety problem with the vaccine for adolescents and teenagers, it would likely have surfaced by now, many experts say…
In Los Angeles County, unvaccinated adolescents age 12 to 17 are now the group with the highest coronavirus case rate in the last month — 19% worse than among unvaccinated younger adults under the age of 50, and 33% worse than among unvaccinated older adults.
So that’s why they’re so eager to vaccinate kids. Two questions, though. First, is this fair? Critics are pointing out that teachers and school staff still aren’t subject to a vaccine mandate in California:
Newsom will not as yet require CA teachers and staff to get vaccine even though their students will have to get the jab. pic.twitter.com/A3uFuGKc67
— Jill Tucker (@jilltucker) October 1, 2021
That seems ass-backwards since adults are at far greater risk of serious infection than kids are. If students had a powerful well-funded union on which Democratic politicians depended for money and manpower, maybe Newsom would be more ambivalent about requiring them to get their shots. Still, teachers and staff don’t get off completely scot-free in California: They’re under a “vax or test” mandate right now that forces them to get immunized or else tested regularly, just as Biden’s forthcoming federal employer vaccine mandate would do at large companies. And, importantly, “[o]nce the student mandate takes effect for a given age group, all school staff working with those students must also get vaccinated and will no longer have a test option,” per Politico.
Newsom could have given students a “vax or test” option just like he gave their teachers. But it sounds like he wants to use the new student mandate as an excuse to force teachers who’ve been holding out to finally get their shots too by taking away their testing alternative. Kids and adults will be under the same policy.
The second, obvious question: Is this necessary? Certainly it’s not necessary to spare kids from bad outcomes, which are rare even if cases have risen lately among the 12-17 cohort:
I just can't see how there is ANY justification for forcing vaccines on kids. <18 has remained consistent and low throughout this, throughout the major waves, throughout Delta, vaccinations (and they make up a small percent.) Add this with the "masking" studies and just insanity. pic.twitter.com/LfT1aiGMH7
— Marcus (@MarcusHUSA) October 1, 2021
What Newsom would say, I assume, is that vaccinating kids is crucial to reducing transmission throughout the population. An unvaccinated kid who’s infected will shake off COVID but that same kid is probably quite a bit more likely to infect an adult than they would have been if they’d had their shots:
Vaccination reduces transmission; the extent appears to vary with the vaccine and the #SARSCoV2 strainhttps://t.co/7gjtebzEGA
Alpha: Pfizer 82%, AZ 63% reduction
Delta: Pfizer 65%, AZ 36% reduction
see preprints for 95% CI, more context and details, such as duration pic.twitter.com/0ETUg6yVbR
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) September 30, 2021
That’s the counterpoint to the argument that if we’re going to mandate COVID vaccines for kids then we should logically mandate flu shots too, since COVID is about as dangerous to children as the flu. Right, but it’s a lot more dangerous to adults whom those kids might infect than the flu is. Vaccinating kids means fewer parents catching COVID, and of course it also means less transmission within schools. (California notoriously kept its schools closed during the pandemic for longer than practically any other state.)
Then again, how risky is transmission within schools realistically? Quote: “In Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest, with more than 10 million residents — just 1.7% of people tested for the virus have it and daily infections are down by half in the last month, when most kids went back to school. ‘These numbers are amazingly low given that 3,000-plus schools are now open countywide,’ county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.”
Are Americans going to go for this? Some will:
Those are national numbers. Gallup also polled student vaccine mandates recently and found that a slim majority would eventually support mandates for kids under 12, 55/45. No doubt support is even stronger in deep-blue California, but I’m sure a lot of parents — even vaccinated parents — will land in the “wait and see” category early on.
Here’s Newsom being quizzed about his new policy on CNN today.