SACRAMENTO – Dr. Richard Pan, state senator representing the Sacramento region and Chair of the Senate Health Committee made the following statement regarding his decision to hold Senate Bill 871, the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act:
“On May 24, 2020, The New York Times proclaimed, ‘U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss. They Were Not Simply Names on a List. They Were Us.’ Less than two years later, nearly ten times that number of Americans have died of COVID including over 1,000 children, and the Government Accountability Office reported that Long COVID has potentially affected up to 23 million Americans and pushed an estimated 1 million people out of work. The most recent wave of infection and death caused by the Omicron variant particularly impacted children, with pediatric hospitalizations rising five to six-fold, as COVID mitigations were lifted and children under 5 years old could not be vaccinated.
COVID vaccinations have proved safe and effective in reducing the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID, and COVID vaccination also decreased infection rates and transmission and lowered rates of post-COVID symptoms including Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), which has affected more than 7,880 American children.
Vaccination is the cornerstone of safer schools and neighborhoods during COVID, and with testing, good ventilation and masking can minimize COVID infections in schools. Many school districts in California such as Los Angeles Unified School District have minimized staff and student absenteeism from COVID infection and have stayed open for in-person learning because they have achieved high rates of vaccination among both staff and students, while other school districts shuttered across the country because of COVID outbreaks.
While California has done better than most states in responding to COVID and reducing COVID deaths, Californians remain at-risk for death and disability from future waves of COVID-19 variants. Polls have demonstrated strong support among voters for school vaccine requirements, particularly among populations at higher risk of COVID infection. Polling also shows that many parents have hurdles to overcome to get their children vaccinated, such as transportation and taking time off from work.
Unfortunately, COVID vaccination rates, particularly among children, are currently insufficient, and the state needs to focus its effort on increasing access to COVID vaccinations for children through physicians and other health providers who care for children and on education efforts to give families accurate information about the COVID vaccine. Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a state-wide 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. Schools play a central role in community spread of many respiratory viruses such as influenza; and with more infectious COVID variants, reducing viral transmission in schools through high vaccination rates and additional mitigations are our most effective strategy to minimize the negative impacts of COVID.
The legislature still needs to enact policies to protect California’s children from COVID, and I will work to make those policies a reality. School testing plans empower parents and school administrators with information about exposure to COVID in schools, and an improved immunization registry reduces the cost and burden of COVID control for school districts. Teens should be empowered with access to COVID vaccines like they currently have access to HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines. And families must have accurate information about COVID and not be deceived by disinformation from medical licensees behaving unprofessionally. In a little more than two years, we have learned much about COVID and are benefiting from safe and effective vaccines.
COVID is an infection with serious consequences for all people, including children. COVID infection has been shown to result in brain damage, increased rates of heart attacks, stroke, heart disease and diabetes; amongst unvaccinated pregnant women, deaths during delivery are higher, as well as premature births, lower birth weight, and stillbirths; and, among males, infection may result in lower sperm counts and erectile dysfunction. Long COVID is disrupting the workforce and its full impact on children is still being studied. I and my colleagues in the Vaccine Work Group will continue to advance policies to protect Californians from preventable COVID disease.”