(CALMATTERS) – Within the space of a few hours on Thursday, California’s possible COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students were significantly scaled back and then postponed for at least a year — underscoring the political risk Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers might have taken on by ordering thousands of unvaccinated kids into distance learning in the middle of an election year.

First, Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento tabled his controversial bill that would have required all children ages 0 to 17 to be vaccinated against COVID to attend school or child care in person. Support for the proposal had been wavering for weeks, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports.

That move defaulted the state back to Newsom’s vaccine mandate, which is much looser than Pan’s — among other things, it allows for personal belief exemptions and wouldn’t require kids to get vaccinated until the semester after federal regulators fully approve the shot for their age group.

But then the California Department of Public Health — part of Newsom’s administration — announced plans to delay the governor’s mandate until July 1, 2023, at the earliest “to ensure sufficient time for successful implementation of new vaccine requirements.”

  • Postponing the mandate could prompt some public health officials and parents to accuse Newsom of putting students’ and teachers’ health at risk and endangering vulnerable communities.
  • But keeping the mandate in place — when just 33.9% of children ages 5-11 and 66.4% of kids 12-17 are fully vaccinated, according to state data — could be tantamount to blocking tens of thousands of students from attending campus and forcing them back into online learning. Black and Latino kids, who have lower vaccination rates than white and Asian children, would be disproportionately impacted.
  • Pan: “Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a statewide policy to require COVID vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority, although it is an appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good vaccine access.”

Pan’s decision to hold his bill is also the most concrete indication yet that Democratic lawmakers’ aggressive slate of vaccine proposals is facing an increasingly uphill battle in a state that just last week announced it no longer recommends quarantine for asymptomatic people exposed to COVID.

  • Also tabled: Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ contentious bill that would have required employers to mandate COVID vaccinations for their workers and independent contractors.
  • Last week, Pan postponed for the second time a critical hearing on his proposal to withhold state funding from law enforcement agencies that oppose public health orders.
  • Three other vaccine bills have not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
  • Meanwhile, next Tuesday, a key committee is slated to consider a contentious proposal that would reclassify the sharing of COVID-19 “misinformation” by doctors and surgeons as unprofessional conduct that would result in disciplinary action.