SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The nation’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren drew hundreds of parents to the State Capitol Monday in protest.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the mandate at the beginning of October, with the aim of having all seventh through 12th grade students vaccinated by next fall. The state said younger students will also fall under the mandate once a vaccine is approved for children ages 5 to 11.
“I’m against the mandate for the kids to get this vaccine. I don’t trust it, I don’t believe in it. I am not an anti-vax person, but I am an anti-mandate person. I don’t feel that the government has the right to tell me what to do with my kids,” parent Lisa Risse told FOX40 during the protest. “I’m happy to see the turnout today. There’s a lot of people in support of the beliefs that we all have.”
Opponents to the student vaccine mandate urged parents statewide to keep their children home from school Monday, calling for a “sit out” across California.
“We’re pulling our kids from public school and it is absolutely something we don’t want to do. We don’t want to do this,” parent Michelle Page told FOX40 on Sunday.
“If you can’t be free to do what you want with your own body, then it’s not freedom,” said Elk Grove parent Erica Prior.
As a mother of three young children, Prior said Monday’s rally should be about freedom of choice.
“I don’t think it’s OK he gets to decide what happens to my children and their bodies,” Prior said of Gov. Newsom.
Lila Hamasaki and her friends drove to the State Capitol from Colfax and skipped class. They said they didn’t want to get vaccinated just to be able to go to school.
“We believe that we shouldn’t get the vaccine and we think that if enough people come here, it will, hopefully, make a difference,” said 12-year-old Lila Hamasaki.
A lot of the parents and students who spoke to FOX40 said they may have to resort to home school if the mandate continues.
“I hope that doesn’t happen because I like going to school, but I think if it comes down to it, we wouldn’t go if it’s mandatory,” Lila said.
Demonstrators holding signs stood outside the Vacaville Unified School District office.
“This is where me and other parents will draw the line and we will pull our kids from the districts across California,” said parent Taylor Ghiorzo, who organized the rally outside the district office. “We’ve already seen a mass exodus of public school. So, we want to just make sure that they are aware of what this is going to cause, the repercussion to them.”
But other parents who spoke to FOX40, like Kathleen Lancaster, said they believe the mandate is a good thing.
“My kids can’t go to school without vaccines. You can’t join the military without getting poked about 20 times, so I’m not so sure why this one,” Lancaster said.
The disease has been most dangerous to older adults, who have higher rates of death and hospitalization than children. But some kids are at risk for severe illness, and more than 540 U.S. children have died from COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Just as important, health officials believe that vaccinating children will reduce virus spread to vulnerable adults.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are furthest along in researching use of their vaccine in younger children. They say a two-dose vaccine series — one-third as potent as the version given to people over 12 years old — is safe and effective in 5- to 11-year-olds.
When asked for a response to Monday’s statewide protests, Gov. Newsom’s office sent FOX40 information on California’s progress on keeping schools open and children safe in the face of on-campus cases and outbreaks.
“Vaccines are how we end this pandemic,” a spokesperson with the governor’s office continued. “The state already requires that students are vaccinated against a range of viruses such as measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. This is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom – these measures are why California leads national trends in preventing school closures and achieving the lowest case rates in the country.”
Even though those at the protest disagree with the governor, kids like Lila said they hope he at least hears their plea.
“Please do not make us get the vaccine because we would be missing out on a lot of good years at school and learning opportunities,” she said.
Read the full statement from Gov. Newsom’s office below.
California has led the nation in implementing school safety measures to protect students and prevent school closures, including: universal masking in K-12 settings, proof of vaccination or weekly testing requirement for school staff, and now adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines required to attend school.
To date, California has led national trends in keeping schools open and kids in classrooms, in addition to keeping our children safe from COVID-19:
Preventing school closures, outpacing national trends. According to the site Burbio, there have been over 2,319 school and/or district closures this school year – California has accounted for 18 of those closures, 0.77% of all school closures in the country, despite educating 12% of the nation’s public school students. If California experienced the rate of school closures that the nation is seeing, the state would have had roughly 268 school closures.
Keeping children out of the hospital. As this school year started in-person throughout the country, California’s pediatric hospitalizations have been lower than national trends, as has been already reported on (“Los Angeles Times: Child COVID-19 hospitalization rates hit record in U.S. — but not in California. Here’s why”) – keeping more kids out of the hospital and in school.
Multiple CDC studies have confirmed the efficacy of California’s policies – including three in late September showing that universal mask mandates reduce in-school transmission and one California study showing that an unvaccinated, unmasked teacher caused an outbreak involving dozens of children. Statewide, these public health measures and the others implemented throughout the pandemic have resulted in California consistently achieving the lowest case rates in the country and having been the only state to have advanced to the CDC’s “moderate” transmission category.
Adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines required for school will continue bolstering the state’s promising vaccination rates (over 52 million vaccinations, and 86% of the eligible population with at least one dose), in addition to keeping more children and adults safe.Office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom
The Associated Press contributed to this report.