CA student vaccination bill paused due to low vaccination rates

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff
SB 871, a California Senate bill that would require all students in California to be vaccinated, is being put on hold due to low vaccination rates in young children. Berkeley Unified School District will keep working with the city to increase vaccine availability to students, families and staff.

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Low vaccination rates in young children have prompted a California Senate bill requiring vaccination in students to be placed on hold.

SB 871 was first introduced by California Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, in January and would require all students in California to be vaccinated. However, the low COVID-19 vaccination rate among young children is causing Pan to place a pause on the mandate until the state can make vaccines more accessible.

“Given that the state’s vaccination rate amongst 5- to 11-year-olds is at 34%, essentially, it doesn’t make sense until we deal with these access issues for the younger kids to move forward with the bill,” said Pan’s spokesperson Edwin Kirby. “We thought there would be a lot more uptake, frankly, of the vaccine as well by this point.”

According to Pan, the state needs to prioritize children’s vaccinations by providing access through physicians and providers who specialize in health care for children. Pan added this effort will be able to help families obtain accurate information about the vaccine.

In an effort to increase access to vaccinations, Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, will continue to work with the city to increase vaccine availability to all students, families and staff, according to BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott.

“We have already begun planning for preschool vaccine clinics with the City of Berkeley in anticipation of the approval of the vaccine for students younger than age five,” McDermott said in an email.

While BUSD does not currently require masking in line with Berkeley public health guidelines, the district still strongly encourages masks in all facilities and schools, McDermott added.

BUSD also runs a contact tracing program and will continue to ask students and staff to screen daily for symptoms, McDermott noted.

According to campus public health and vaccinology professor emeritus John Swartzberg, the mandate would be unrealistic if passed now, as it would prevent a large number of students from attending school.

“We do not have enough children vaccinated nor will they be by the start of the fall school year,” Swartzberg said in an email. “I’m sad that we will not be able to open schools in the fall with the confidence of knowing that our kids are protected.”

Swartzberg emphasized the necessity to get children vaccinated as soon as possible. He noted that with many unvaccinated students, there will be an inevitable increase in infected students, teachers and staff, which will potentially lead to school closures.

More importantly, COVID-19 is still responsible for many hospitalizations and deaths in children, not to mention its infectious properties to surrounding family members, according to Swartzberg.

“Covid is not a benign disease for any age group, including children,” Swartzberg said in the email. “It is significantly more serious to children than influenza.”

He noted it is likely the guidelines for COVID-19 immunizations will be similar to flu shots in the future.

Contact Erica Jean at [email protected].