Requiring students and workers to vaccinate against COVID 19 will help California return to pre-pandemic normalcy, save lives and avoid long-COVID injury.
By Eric Ball, Special to CalMatters
Dr. Eric Ball is a pediatrician in Orange County, vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics District IX, and board member of the California Immunization Coalition.
We are still battling the pandemic. In coming weeks, we will see COVID-19 deaths hit the somber 1 million milestone. We are exhausted, but we have risen to the challenge of this pandemic in the most remarkable of ways.
We have created incredible vaccines that continue to keep pace with a wily, ever-evolving virus. And if we can continue to fight, we can win back our pre-pandemic ways of life without sacrificing the safety of our most vulnerable.
Vaccines remain an effective way to prevent death and the most serious injury. This underscores why policymakers must continue to support immunization efforts — including vaccination requirements. The California Legislature continues to play a critical role in caring for all Californians, whether vulnerable to COVID-19 or healthy but potentially harmed by long COVID. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics California, the California Academy of Family Physicians, and the California Medical Association continue to support legislative efforts to increase vaccination requirements and testing and fight public health disinformation and misinformation.
Those efforts include:
Senate Bill 871, which would strengthen California’s school vaccine requirement to include COVID-19. This is the next logical step toward living with the virus.
Assembly Bill 1797, which recognizes the greater needs and uses for the immunization registry.
Senate Bill 866, the Teens Choose Vaccines Act, which simply adds COVID-19 to the vaccines, such as that for human papillomavirus (HPV), and other medical services teens can consent to in current law.
We have successfully used the tried-and-true methods of prevention and limiting spread through vaccination requirements to make measles, mumps, rubella and polio far less prevalent in our communities. Now it is time to extend these requirements to stem the prevalence of COVID-19.
Critics will say that requiring students to be vaccinated in order to attend public schools will persuade more parents to home-school their children or refuse to comply. Research shows, however, that school vaccination requirements passed in 2014 only increased home-schooling by a little over 1%. The state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, is already working on implementing COVID-19 vaccination requirements. District officials have reported a 97% compliance rate.
We can live with the COVID virus in a way that keeps schools open and safe, and returns our general way of living back to pre-pandemic normalcy.
We simply cannot give up on saving lives and preventing injury, because we know COVID-19 is here to stay and will continue to evolve. We must broaden our defenses or risk death and significant injury for seniors and people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses (and, unfortunately, a small subset of children).
Tragically, more people have died during the omicron surge, despite the fact that the variant was labeled as “more mild” than the previous variant, Delta. More kids have died of COVID-19 during the omicron wave, likely because of policy changes that lightened some safety measures just as a variant that spreads more rapidly than previous versions swept the state.
COVID-19 is not harmless: Studies show that an asymptomatic person with COVID-19 can experience long COVID effects on the heart, lung, and kidneys, or brain damage. Additionally, kids can experience long COVID just like adults, which means some children are experiencing brain injury that causes fatigue, memory loss and an inability to concentrate.
Our collective fatigue is undeniable. I see it every day in the faces of the families that walk into my office, my co-workers and even my own family. But our progress is significant. Let’s not allow anti-vaccine extremists to derail us in our efforts to return to normalcy, save lives and stop injury.
State policies can help to bring us over the finish line. If legislators take action now, they will allow us to return to pre-pandemic norms in a manner that keeps us safe, just as they, and as legislators before them, have done for so many other diseases.