SACRAMENTO, California – In January, progressive California Democrats pledged to accept the need for the country’s toughest covid vaccine. Their proposals will require most Californians to go to school or take shots at work – without allowing them to get discounts.
A few months later, before the first vote, lawmakers pulled out their bills.
A major vaccine proposal survives, but faces an uphill battle. This will allow children between the ages of 12 and 17 to receive a Covid-19 vaccine without parental permission. At least 10 other states allow some minors to do so.
Democrats have blamed the changing nature and perception of the epidemic for the failure of their vaccine mandate. They say the drop in case rates earlier this year has made the system redundant and the public less focused on the epidemic. Also, they argued, the state is not vaccinating enough children, so many children will stay away from school if shots are needed for attendance.
Political pressure from business and public safety groups and moderate Democrats – as well as vocal opposition to anti-vaccine activists – contributed.
Now, even if the rate of cases starts to balloon again, the window of opportunity to receive the covid vaccine mandate may close, says Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. “Concerns around the directive and all the pushback states have gotten into it, they’re really hesitant to move forward,” Tewerson said. “The federal mandate has stalled in court. And the law is not being enacted. “
Other states have also failed to meet the requirements for the covid vaccine this year. The only authority in Washington, D.C., to pass legislation to add the covid vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for K-12 students was once the shots received full federal approval for children of that age. A public school mandate adopted by Louisiana in December 2021 was withdrawn in May.
According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, the most popular vaccine law is to ban any kind of covid vaccine mandate, which has been passed by at least 19 states.
In California, the landscape has changed dramatically in just a few months. In January, a group of progressive Democrats unveiled eight bills aimed at improving vaccines, fighting misinformation and vaccine data. Two were sweeping mandates that would require most indoor business employees to take shots and add the covid vaccine to the school’s list of required vaccinations.
“It’s important that we continue to push aggressively for the vaccine mandate,” State Assembly member Buffy Weeks (D-Oakland) told KHN in early 2022. He was the author of the Workplace Order Bill
But the law broke almost immediately.
In March, Wicks worker died of a vaccine mandate proposal. This was strongly opposed by firefighters and police unions, whose membership would be required.
“I don’t think anti-waxers carry too much weight in Sacramento with my colleagues,” Weeks said. “They are a very insignificant part of the equation.” Public safety unions “carry weight and influence in Sacramento,” he said.
Professional firefighters and other public safety groups in California argued in writing against the bill, arguing that the mandates would interfere with their employers’ ability to negotiate employment requirements. The team, representing 30,000 firefighters, wrote: “The brief removal of these bargaining principles with a blanket mandate sets a dangerous and depressing precedent.”
Schools were also supposed to be subject to a strict vaccine order.
In October 2021, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California would be the first state to require schoolchildren to take shots from July 2022. That deadline has since been pushed to at least July 2023
And Newsom’s order came with a loophole that would allow parents to opt out of their children, demanding a “personal trust” waiver.
In January, when California regularly topped 100,000 new cases per day, lawmakers introduced legislation to ban personal trust exemptions for covid vaccines – they are not approved for any other required childhood vaccines.
Again, they were quick to back down, saying that vaccination rates among children were so low that shots would not be needed until they were widely available in the pediatrician’s office.
According to the California Department of Public Health, about 60% of eligible Californians have been fully vaccinated and received a booster shot, while only 35% of children aged 5 to 11 have received their first two doses. Boosters were approved for children in mid-May.
Instead of implementing the mandate, the state should focus on educating parents and reaching out to them, said Assembly member Aquila Weber (D-San Diego), an OB-GYN who was among the legislators who introduced the vaccine bill package. “It’s hard to argue that we need to be compliant at the moment when you have a good number of people who think we’re over the epidemic,” he said.
Lawmakers could revoke mandate bills, he said, if hospital and healthcare workers were overwhelmed again.
Cases are on the rise across the state. The rate of positive covid test has been as high as 7% in recent days, the highest level since February – and probably the lowest count because of those who are testing at home and not reporting results.
Robin Swanson, a Sacramento-based Democratic political adviser, says Weber’s advice helps parents better understand why the law has failed. State and local officials have never explicitly approached the public about vaccinating children, he said, and have not effectively reached out to vulnerable populations from the beginning. “You can’t create a mandate over disbelief,” Swanson said.
Outreach and public information are important, said Emeritus Dr. Emeritus, a clinical professor of infectious diseases and vaccines at the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health University. But if they are attached to the mandate, he said, the state could vaccinate and protect many more children. “The business that makes vaccines compulsory works pretty well,” Schwartzberg said. “And in schools, in particular, it works very well.”
Pro-vaccine activists who pledged more attendance at the California Capitol this year also thought the mandates would dramatically increase vaccination rates. But as the reality unfolded, they shifted their focus to raising funds for vaccinations and pushing surviving bills across the finish line.
“Yes, we need vaccines, and, yes, they work,” said Crystal Strait, who heads the pro-vaccine company Protects. But he acknowledged that the situation had changed since January, and said that his group needed to change: “We cannot be as simple as the need for a vaccine.”
Newsum’s latest state budget proposal includes $ 230 million for vaccine promotion and $ 135 million for vaccine distribution and administration.
The Straits group plans to fight the misinformation of the vaccine among the public and cautioned lawmakers, including Democrats. “People are telling you they’re for science and for public health, but when the push comes, they’re not there yet,” Strait said of the hesitant legislators.
In general, the vaccine mandate is popular with the public. According to a March survey by the California Institute of Public Policy, 57% of people in California favor vaccination for going to large outdoor gatherings or entering certain indoor spaces such as bars and restaurants.
But Rose Kapoljinski, a Democratic strategist who worked with Strait on the pro-vaccine lobbying push, compared vaccine beliefs to climate change: voters say they care, but other, more real issues, such as gas prices and reproductive rights, become more urgent. They have risen
Katherine Flores-Martin, executive director of the California Immunization Coalition Pro-Vaccine, said, “If the situation in January and February were as bad as it is now, there would be more concern and action.”
“I’m disappointed that people aren’t taking a long look.”
The story was produced by KHN, which publishes the California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.
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