Pennsylvania state Senate Republicans on Monday approved legislation that would prohibit a COVID-19 vaccine mandate requirement for K–12 students in order for them to attend school, despite there being no such mandate currently in effect.
The legislation amends the Public School Code of 1949, by adding an “immunization exception” section that reads “no child shall be required to be immunized for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, known as COVID-19, as a condition of compliance with 28 Pa. Code § 23.83 (relating to immunization requirements).”
Effectively, it means that schools would be prohibited from requiring kids to get a COVID-19 vaccine to attend classes.
Under the Pennsylvania Code §23.83 immunization requirements, children are required to be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis B, and chickenpox to attend school. However, in regards to measles, mumps, and rubella evidence of immunity is acceptable.
School children in the state can invoke medical, religious, or philosophical exemptions for the immunization requirements.
Senate Bill 937 received pushback from legislative Democrats, and will likely face a veto by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, who said he opposes the bill and does not have plans to implement such a mandate.
“The administration has no plans to mandate vaccines for K–12 schools so this is nothing more than a waste of time and taxpayer money, and is a distraction from the real issues Pennsylvanians are facing that Republicans should be addressing,” Wolf’s office said in a statement.
The governor also added that Republicans should be encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Currently, all Pennsylvanians age 5 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and Wolf has urged Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated and receive booster shots against COVID-19 in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
In November, during a visit to Berks Community Health Center’s Rockland location to promote their walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic, Wolf again urged citizens to get the shots ahead of Christmas, noting that, “Safety and peace of mind is the best gift you can give yourself, your family, and your community this holiday season.”
“As vaccination rates rise and as vaccines are approved for younger age groups, our ability to protect Pennsylvanians from this dangerous disease continues to grow,” Wolf said. “The approval of the pediatric vaccine is another important milestone in our fight against this virus. I encourage all eligible Pennsylvanians, especially parents and guardians, to consider getting themselves and their child(ren) vaccinated ahead of the holiday season.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends everyone aged 5 and older get vaccinated against coronavirus, with vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Brooks argued that other vaccines required by schools weren’t approved under the FDA’s “emergency use authorization” like the COVID-19 vaccines are.
Another supporter, Sen. Doug Mastriano, pointed to the state’s death toll showing that 14 school-aged children out of an estimated 1.7 million had died from COVID-19, noting that he believes this puts it on par with the seasonal flu, bird flu, and swine flu.
Democrats argued that there is currently no such mandate requiring children to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend school, but noted that such vaccines can save lives.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.