Will COVID vaccines be mandated in schools? Pa. officials, candidates say it's unlikely
A new announcement from the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has renewed discussion about COVID-19 vaccines for children in Pennsylvania.
Last week, the federal CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended adding COVID-19 vaccines to childhood and adult immunization schedules for 2023. The CDC noted in its announcement that school-entry vaccination requirements are set at the state and local, not federal, level.
Government officials in Pennsylvania, including candidates for governor, say a statewide mandate is unlikely.
Who sets school vaccine policy in PA?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, any sweeping mandate would have to come from lawmakers in Harrisburg. Communications director Casey Smith said vaccination changes for K-12 students requires legislative action.
Nicole Reigelman, press secretary for the House Democratic Caucus, noted that the topic would be unlikely to come to a vote this year. She said there are too few voting days left on the legislative calendar.
"Pennsylvania needs to engage in an aggressive education campaign to make caregivers aware of the importance and availability of the COVID-19 vaccination," Reigelman added.
House Republican Caucus spokesperson Jason Gottesman indicated that GOP has no interest in a COVID-19 mandate. Republicans hold the majority in both the House and Senate heading into critical midterms next month.
“House Republicans have long believed that government should not have a role in mandating who should receive a COVID vaccine," Gottesman said.
"That is especially true for children where parents should be empowered to make the decisions that are best for their family. That belief has not changed."
Do Mastriano, Shapiro support COVID vaccine mandates?
On the heels of the CDC announcement, several current and prospective Republican governors took to social media to rail against the notion of new vaccine mandates.
"COVID-19 mandates should be in our rear view mirror," Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin tweeted. "The decision to vaccinate a child against COVID-19 is for Virginia parents to make about what's best for them and their family."
Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano took a similar position and alleged that his Democratic opposition, Josh Shapiro, would support a vaccine mandate.
"My opponent — who enthusiastically supported Governor (Tom) Wolf's lockdowns — wants to empower teachers unions bureaucrats over parents, and believes that fake science is the universal excuse for government to strip us of our freedoms," Mastriano said in a press release posted to Twitter. "He would do nothing to stop the CDC."
"When I'm governor, PA will not mandate the COVID vaccine — no matter what the CDC says."
A campaign spokesman for Shapiro, however, said that the Democrat wouldn't push for a statewide requirement, either.
“Josh Shapiro will not impose new COVID-19 mandates. As Governor, Josh will encourage Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and ensure vaccines are widely available," Shapiro spokesperson Will Simons said in a statement.
Mastriano's camp, which routinely ignores USA TODAY Network interview requests, did not reply to an email seeking additional comment.
What does the CDC say about COVID vaccines for kids?
According to the CDC, nearly 630 million COVID vaccines have been administered nationwide over the past two years.
The agency's position is that children as young as 6 months old should be given the vaccine. Vaccine for Kids, a federally funded program, provides these doses at no or low cost.
"It’s important to note that there are no changes in COVID-19 vaccine policy, and today’s action simply helps streamline clinical guidance for healthcare providers by including all currently licensed, authorized and routinely recommended vaccines in one document," the CDC said in its media statement.
Bruce Siwy is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Pennsylvania state capital bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @BruceSiwy.