How Covid made it nearly impossible to pass new vaccine rules

While only a handful of mostly small, rural districts formally opposed the bill, statewide education groups also started to privately pressure the lawmaker to drop or soften her proposal.

Toxic, pandemic-era battles over immunizations and school closures have made vaccine politics radioactive, even on diseases wholly unrelated to Covid-19. In California, where lawmakers pushed through some of the nation’s strictest mandates through 2019, schools are wary of wading back into the fight.

Across the country, blue-state policymakers have nearly given up trying to create new vaccine policy and are now simply trying to hold the line on a decade’s worth of public health gains. Attempts to add required vaccines for school kids this year sputtered in Wisconsin, California and Massachusetts, a stunning reversal after a successful push to tighten exemptions for mandated childhood vaccines.

“It’s fair to say we’re experiencing a new paradigm in the vaccine debates,” said Troy Flint, a spokesperson for the California School Boards Association, which has not taken an official position on the bill. “I think there is weariness about addressing the issue because of the impact that the closure of in-person instruction had on students, as well as just the vitriol that surrounds the issue and has the potential to distract.”

Anti-vaccine activists, who argue immunizations are a personal choice and should not be compelled by the state, have seized on that reluctance — and lately, they’ve been on a winning streak. In just over a year, proposals in Sacramento to let younger teens get the shot without parental consent, require the Covid-19 vaccine for schools and some employers, and tighten up vaccine reporting requirements lost steam, weighed down by pandemic fatigue and growing public resentment toward public health mandates.

“People are so wary of science and data now,” said the HPV bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry. “I have to have a brass backbone on this,” she added.

It’s an ominous sign for the ability of states to enact new vaccine laws.

“There’s been an avalanche, a flood, of bills introduced on vaccine policy, but they’re mostly negative,” said Brent Ewig, the chief policy and government relations officer of the Association of Immunization Managers, which has been going state to state to counter the small but loud “medical freedom groups.”

“Right now the politics of vaccines are such that we’re in a holding pattern.”

The anti-vaccine side is not waiting it out.

Even before Aguiar-Curry’s HPV bill had been formally introduced, groups advocating for “parental choice” and “medical freedom” were roaming the halls of the state Capitol, meeting with elected officials in case anyone in Sacramento was thinking of trying to mandate the Covid-19 vaccine again.

By the time the Democrat finally proposed an HPV mandate, one that she had been urged to…

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