In January, progressive California Democrats vowed to adopt the toughest Covid vaccine requirements in the country. Their proposals would have required most Californians to get the shots to go to school or work – without allowing exemptions to get out of them.
Democrats unveiled eight bills to require vaccinations, combat misinformation, and improve vaccine data. Two were sweeping mandates that would have required employees of most indoor businesses to get shots and added Covid vaccines to the list of immunizations required for schools.
But, according to the report in Kaiser Health News, most of the proposed legislation imploded.
Months later, the lawmakers pulled their bills before the first votes. One major vaccine proposal survives, but faces an uphill battle. It would allow children ages 12 to 17 to get a covid-19 vaccine without parental permission.
“It’s important that we continue to push for vaccine mandates the most aggressively we possibly can,” state Assembly member Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) told KHN in early 2022. She was the author of the workplace mandate bill.
In March, Wicks’ worker vaccine mandate proposal died. It was strongly opposed by firefighter and police unions, whose membership would have been subject to the requirement.
“I don’t think the anti-vaxxers carry much weight in Sacramento with my colleagues,” Wicks said. “They’re a pretty insignificant part of the equation.” The public safety unions who opposed the bills “are the ones that carry the weight and influence in Sacramento,” she said.
Democrats also blamed the failure of their vaccine mandates on the changing nature and perception of the pandemic. They said the measures became unnecessary as case rates declined earlier this year and the public became less focused on the pandemic. Besides, they argued, the state isn’t vaccinating enough children, so requiring the shots for attendance would shut too many kids out of school.
Political pressure from business and public safety groups and from moderate Democrats – along with vocal opposition from anti-vaccine activists – also contributed.
“Now, even as case rates start to balloon again, the window of opportunity to adopt covid vaccine mandates may have closed,” said Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. “Given the concerns around mandates and all the pushback states have received on this, they’re hesitant to really move forward,” Tewarson said. “Federal mandates have stalled in the courts. And legislation is just not being enacted.”
Other states have also largely failed to adopt covid vaccine requirements this year. Washington, D.C., was the only jurisdiction to pass legislation to add the covid vaccine to the list of required immunizations for K-12 students once the shots have received full federal authorization for kids of those ages. A public school mandate adopted by Louisiana in December 2021 was rescinded in May.
The most popular vaccine legislation has been to ban covid vaccine mandates of any kind, which at least 19 states did, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.