Editorial: Newsom must stop COVID-19 mixed messages

The Mercury News, The Mercury News on

Published in Op Eds

It's easy to think Gov. Gavin Newsom did the right thing Oct. 1 when he announced a statewide COVID-19 vaccination mandate for school students and staff members.

Give the governor credit for getting the concept right. But closer scrutiny reveals a decidedly mixed message of the kind that Californians have come to expect from Newsom on matters dealing with the coronavirus.

Vaccines save lives and are the effective tool available to fight the pandemic. We support the concept of local, state and federal vaccine mandates.

The governor's reluctance to impose a statewide mandate for younger students until the vaccines have the full approval from the FDA is understandable. But what's keeping Newsom from requiring that staff members must be vaccinated by, say, Dec. 1, since the FDA has already cleared the vaccines for adults? Or students 16-and-older, for that matter, since they, too, have the FDA's stamp of approval.

The governor said that staff members would not have to be vaccinated until the school term after the vaccines have full approval from the FDA for students grades 7-12 and K-6. Unless vaccine makers get the OK for those two groups by Jan. 1, that means staff may not be be required to be vaccinated until at least the fall of 2022. In what world does that make sense?

It mirrors the inconsistency of the governor's July 26 announcement of a vaccine mandate for all state employees and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings.


"As the state's largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same," Newsom said. "Vaccines are safe — they protect our family, those who truly can't get vaccinated, our children and our economy. Vaccines are the way we end this pandemic."

But when the powerful state prison guards' union protested, the governor caved. His administration resisted the mandate for prison workers, despite more than 50,000 California state prisoners testing positive for COVID-19 and 240 inmate deaths. It took a Sept. 27 federal judge's ruling to enforce the state mandate for prison guards. As of Sept. 28, CalMatters reported that fewer than half of California's prison guards had been fully vaccinated.

Newsom's mandate for students also includes a religious and personal belief exemption. California has been down that path before with its vaccine mandate for contagious diseases such as the measles. It took state Sen. Richard Pan's legislation to close loopholes that anti-vaxxers used to skirt the state requirement.

In 2015, California was one of only 20 states to permit a personal belief exemption for philosophical reasons, and 80% of parents who declined MMR vaccines for their kids used that excuse. More than 10,000 kindergarten students used waivers due to parents' personal beliefs to avoid MMR vaccinations.

Vaccine mandates provide the clearest path to a return to normalcy. The governor should back his tough talk with actions that match his words.

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