Legislation would close vaccination loopholes, beef up COVID testing

Olivia Modarelli
Staff Writer

California may soon be increasing its COVID safety standards for children across the state.

Three bills regarding COVID safety have been introduced to the California Senate this year — Senate Bills 1479, 866 and 871. They are set to establish school testing plans, allow more children to get the vaccine, and allow fewer COVID vaccination exemptions.

Senate Bill 1479, authored by Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would require that every California school creates a COVID testing protocol that aligns with the California Department of Public Health’s guidance. 

Edwin Kirby, district director for Pan, said that the specific guidelines are not specified by law so as to provide the Health Department with the flexibility to work with different schools and develop plans that make the most sense for each.

“Although vaccinations remain the cornerstone of public health’s response to COVID-19, testing at our schools is essential to preventing surges of the virus,” the bill’s fact sheet says. “This bill will help keep schools open and safe by ensuring schools have a plan to test for COVID-19.” 

Kirby said that Senate Bill 1479 is supported by youth groups such as Generation Up and Teens for Vaccines. 

Senate Bill 866, Authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would allow children ages 12 and older to get vaccinated without parental consent. This bill extends beyond COVID vaccines to any approved vaccine. 

“Vaccinating the population with a safe vaccine in the face of a global pandemic is a fight worth having,” said Jason Neidleman, professor of political science, who said he recognizes this bill, if passed, could be politically charged as parents’ would lose final say over their kids’ vaccination decisions.  

Senate Bill 87l, authored by Wiener and Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, would require all children who attend school in person to get the COVID vaccine before attending. It would also allow the public health department to prohibit so-called personal belief exemptions for COVID vaccines in schools. 

Wiener said the personal belief exemption was eliminated around seven years ago for all existing vaccines at the time. Senate Bill 871 would extend that same rule to the COVID vaccine. 

Professor of Political Science Richard Gelm said that it seems like part of a natural and historical evolution to add COVID vaccines to the list of the many required vaccinations that are already part of our everyday lives. 

“This is not unprecedented that there’s pushback,” Gelm said.

“There’s always been people who didn’t want to get vaccinated but it’s not been a partisan political issue until very recently,” Wiener said.

Weiner described vaccines as a miracle of science, and he called their politicization tragic. 

“We know that the vaccines are very effective at keeping people out of the hospital and keeping people alive,” Wiener said. “The very minuscule risk from the vaccine pales in comparison to the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID.” 

“If there’s anything that a government must do it’s to protect its people,” Gelm said. “That’s what a government is for.” 

 “There is essentially no sound basis for being hesitant with respect to these COVID vaccines,” Neidleman added.

“Right now, all of these bills are just now being referred to committees in their house of origin,” Kirby said. 

All three proposed bills will likely undergo several months of legislative processes before possibly becoming law. 

Kirby said that if they are approved, they will take effect on January 1, 2023. 

Olivia Modarelli can be reached at olivia.modarelli@laverne.edu.

Olivia Modarelli, a senior journalism major with a concentration in print-online journalism, is a staff photographer for the Campus Times. She previously served as a staff writer and copy editor.

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