In January, California’s Progressive Democrats vowed to adopt the country’s strictest VOCID vaccine requirements. His proposals would have required that most Californians get the shots to go to school or work, without allowing exemptions to come out.
Months later, lawmakers withdrew their accounts before the first ballots.
A major vaccine proposal survives, but faces a tough battle. It would allow children between the ages of 12 and 17 to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 without parental permission. At least 10 more states allow some minors to do so.
Democrats blamed the failure of their vaccination mandates on the changing nature and perception of the pandemic. They said the measures were made unnecessary as case rates fell earlier in the year and the public focused less on the pandemic. In addition, they argued, the state is not vaccinating enough children, so requiring vaccinations to attend would leave too many children out of school.
Political pressure from business and public safety groups and moderate Democrats, along with vocal opposition from vaccine activists, also contributed.
Now, as case rates begin to rise again, the window of opportunity to adopt COVID vaccine warrants may have closed, said Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy of Health Policy. the state. “Given the concerns about the mandates and all the rejection states they have received about it, they are hesitant to really move forward,” Tewarson said. “Federal mandates have stalled in the courts. And the legislation is simply not being enacted.”
Other states have also not largely adopted COVID vaccine requirements this year. Washington, DC, was the only jurisdiction to pass legislation to add the COVID vaccine to the list of immunizations required for K-12 students once the vaccines have received full federal authorization for children. ‘these ages. A public school mandate adopted by Louisiana in December 2021 was revoked in May. The most popular vaccine legislation has been to ban vaccine mandates against VOCID of any kind, which was done by at least 19 states, according to the National Academy of State Health Policy.
In California, the landscape has changed dramatically in just a few months. In January, a group of progressive Democrats introduced eight bills to demand vaccines, combat misinformation, and improve vaccine data. Two were broad mandates that would have required employees of most domestic companies to be vaccinated and add vaccines against COVID to the list of immunizations needed for schools.
“It’s important that we continue to push vaccine mandates as aggressively as we can,” State Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) told KHN in early 2022. She was the author of the project. labor mandate law.
But the legislation imploded almost immediately.
In March, the proposed Wicks workers’ vaccination warrant died. It was strongly opposed by the fire and police unions, whose membership would have been subject to the requirement.
“I don’t think anti-vaxxers have much weight in Sacramento with my teammates,” Wicks said. “They’re a pretty insignificant part of the equation.”
Public safety unions “are the ones that have the weight and influence in Sacramento,” he said. Professional firefighters in California and other public safety groups argued in written opposition to the bill that the mandates would interfere with their ability to negotiate employment requirements with their employers. “Summarizing these negotiated policies with a general mandate sets a dangerous and demoralizing precedent,” the group, which represents 30,000 firefighters, wrote.
“It’s hard to argue that we have to impose right now when there are a good number of people who feel we’ve overcome the pandemic.”
– Assembly Member Akilah Weber (D-San Diego)
Schools also had to be subject to a strict vaccination mandate.
In October 2021, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California would become the first state to require vaccinations for schoolchildren beginning in July 2022. Since then, that deadline has been postponed to at least July. of 2023.
And Newsom’s order came with a loophole that will allow parents to exclude their children by claiming a “personal belief” exemption.
In January, when California routinely exceeded 100,000 new cases a day, lawmakers introduced legislation to ban exemptions from personal beliefs for COVID-19 vaccines; these are not allowed for any other necessary childhood vaccine.
Again, they soon withdrew, saying the vaccination rate among children was so low that no vaccinations should be required until they are widely available in pediatric offices. About 60% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot, while only 35% of children ages 5 to 11 have received their first two doses, according to the California Department of Public Health. Reinforcements for children were approved in mid-May.
Instead of implementing mandates, the state should focus on educating and reaching out to parents, said Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), an obstetrics and gynecologist who was among the lawmakers who introduced the vaccine bill package.
“It’s hard to argue that right now we need to be compelled when there are a good number of people who feel we have overcome the pandemic,” he said.
Lawmakers could resurrect the bills, he said, if hospitals and health workers overflow again. Cases are rising statewide. The positive COVID test rate has been as high as 7% in recent days, its highest level since February, and probably a lower count due to people taking tests at home and not reporting results.
Weber’s suggestion to better involve parents helps explain why the law failed, said Robin Swanson, a Sacramento-based Democratic political consultant. State and local officials never communicated clearly with the public about vaccinating children, he said, and did not effectively reach vulnerable populations from the outset.
“You can’t build a mandate out of distrust,” Swanson said.
Dissemination and public information are key, said Dr. John Swartzberg, Professor Emeritus of Infectious Diseases and Vaccines at the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health. But if they are associated with a mandate, he said, the state could vaccinate and protect many more children.
“In companies that require vaccines, it works pretty well,” Swartzberg said. “And in schools in particular, it works really well.”
Pro-vaccine activists who promised to have a larger presence at the Capitol this year also thought the mandates would drastically increase vaccination rates. But as the reality began, they changed their approach to increase funding for vaccination and boost surviving bills to the goal.
“Yes, we need vaccine requirements and, yes, they work,” said Crystal Strait, who runs the pro-vaccination organization ProtectUS. But he acknowledged that the situation had changed since January and said his group needed to change: “We can’t be as simplistic as just a vaccine requirement.”
Newsom’s latest state budget proposal includes $ 230 million for vaccine dissemination and $ 135 million for vaccine distribution and administration.
Strait’s group plans to combat misinformation about vaccines among the public and cautious lawmakers, including those in the Democratic ranks.
“There are people who say it’s in favor of science and public health, but when the impetus comes, they’re not there yet,” Strait said of the dubious lawmakers.
Vaccine warrants are generally popular with the public. According to a March poll by the California Institute of Public Policy, 57% of Californians were in favor of requiring people to provide vaccination tests to go to large outdoor meetings or to enter certain places. interiors such as bars and restaurants.
But Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic strategist who worked on the Strait Vaccine push, compared vaccine beliefs to climate change: voters say they care, but other more tangible issues, such as prices of gas and reproductive rights, become more urgent. they.
“If things were as bad now as they were in January and February, there would be more concern and action,” said Catherine Flores-Martin, executive director of the California Pro-Vaccine Immunization Coalition. “I’m disappointed that people don’t have a long vision.”
This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an independent publishing service of the California Health Care Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.