As California became the first state in the nation to announce that the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to the list of required school vaccinations, Turlock residents and hundreds of other parents took to the steps outside of the Stanislaus County Office of Education on Wednesday to protest the mandate.
Families throughout Stanislaus County also kept their children out of school for the day as part of the protest, with Turlock Unified School District reporting a decrease of 5.84% in attendance from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the vaccine mandate on Oct. 1, which requires students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person instruction. The order will take effect starting the term following full approval of the vaccine for 7-12 and K-6 students by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Based on the approval projections, the State anticipates the requirement would apply to grades 7-12 starting July 1, 2022, while there is currently no estimate for when the mandate will affect K-6 students.
Turlock mom Debbie Garcia said she decided to join the protest on Wednesday out of a desire for “freedom of choice.” Her child is elementary age, she said, and she hoped the hundreds of protestors outside SCOE would persuade local leaders to listen and fight for local control.
“There's no rhyme or reason behind having a mandate. We have given up a lot. We've contributed a lot. We've done everything we need to do,” Garcia said. “At least give us a choice and let us have options.”
Another mom from Turlock, Ashley Schmidt, said she doesn’t know enough about the vaccine’s long-term effects to feel comfortable allowing her daughter to take it.
“I feel like the science isn’t there for the vaccine to be given to kids yet. I’m not anti-vax; I’m pro-choice as far as I want my kids to have a choice,” Schmidt said. “I have a voice, and I don’t feel comfortable with giving them this yet. I’m not saying that I never will, I just need more time and there’s not enough data yet.”
Schmidt was joined by Turlock parent Kristi Day at Wednesday’s protest, which featured a large crowd of all ages. Day said she has children in elementary, junior high and high school and would homeschool them if it came down to choosing between public instruction and her children not receiving vaccine.
She and Schmidt know about the personal and religious exemptions permitted for the mandate, they said, which are allowed because the vaccine is not ordered by legislation. Still, they’re skeptical at how exemptions will be permitted and enforced. Once ages 12 and up receive full FDA approval, the State says details of the mandate will be addressed, including exemptions.
Vaccines that are currently required my legislative mandate include Diphtheria, Haemophilus Influenza Type B, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Poliomyelitis, Rubella, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Varicella (Chickenpox).
Speaking of the size of Wednesday’s crowd, Day said, “I hope it makes some people think.”
For Garcia, she said it felt reassuring to know she wasn’t alone in her opinions of the vaccine.
“It’s very powerful. I've been sharing with people, and there've been a lot of moms and a lot of people in high school who are very uncomfortable. I am one of those uncomfortable people, but I'm becoming more comfortable in my uncomfortableness,” Garcia said. “We’re just putting a hand out for each other and holding each other up so that they don't feel alone.”
With every protest, counter-protestors can usually be found nearby. On Wednesday, however, parents with opposing views stayed home and kept their protest virtual, said Melissa Geary of the Pro-science Turlock Parents Facebook group.
She and other members encouraged those who support the vaccine mandate to email SCOE and let them know they disagree with views Geary called “anti-science.”
“Their anti-mask, anti-vaccine propaganda is a large part of the reason the pandemic has not ended. The majority of parents support the vaccine mandates for both students and staff, so please don’t let our lack of public appearances be discouraging,” Geary said. “This is representative of a vocal minority who in all likelihood will end up being quietly vaccinated by the time the mandates actually take effect next year.
“They are often members of the same social media circles who wanted to reopen schools unsafely because distance learning was so difficult,” Geary continued, “so I personally predict they will not be able to successfully homeschool their children when and if that becomes the only option left to them.”
As far as FDA approval for the vaccine goes, students ages 16 and up are fully approved. Students age 12 through 15 have emergency use authorization, with full approval expected in the coming months. Students ages five through 11 are expected to receive emergency use authorization at the end of the month, though the timeline for full approval is uncertain.
For more information about the vaccine mandate, visit www.covid19.ca.gov