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Pennsylvania Senate aims to bar school COVID-19 vaccine mandate

In this Thursday, March 11, 2021 file photo, desks are arranged in a classroom at an elementary school in Nesquehoning, Pa.
Matt Slocum
In this Thursday, March 11, 2021 file photo, desks are arranged in a classroom at an elementary school in Nesquehoning, Pa.

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate approved legislation Monday to prevent school children from being required to get a COVID-19 vaccination to attend school, although it likely faces a veto by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The bill passed on party lines, 28-21, and goes to the House of Representatives. Neither the state nor any school district in Pennsylvania require the COVID-19 vaccination to attend school.

Wolf, a Democrat, opposes the bill and has no plans to require the vaccine, his office said.

“The administration has no plans to mandate vaccines for K-12 schools so this is nothing more than a waste of time and taxpayer money, and is a distraction from the real issues Pennsylvanians are facing that Republicans should be addressing,” Wolf’s office said in a statement.

Rather, Wolf's office said Republicans should urge their constituents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Wolf has urged Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get booster shots. All adults are eligible, and children ages 5 to 18 are eligible for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

In the case of other infectious diseases, school children in Pennsylvania can invoke medical, religious or philosophical exemptions for other immunization requirements.

Under state law, those immunizations that are required as a condition of attendance at school in Pennsylvania include doses for chicken pox, polio, hepatitis B, diphtheria, and measles, mumps and rubella. In some cases, evidence of immunity is acceptable.

The sponsor, Sen. Michelle Brooks, R-Mercer, argued that other vaccines required by schools weren't approved under “emergency use authorization” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, her bill makes no mention of the vaccine's emergency authorization.

Another supporter, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, said the state's acting health secretary had testified over the summer that 14 school-aged children out of an estimated 1.7 million had died from COVID-19. That, he said, put it on par with the seasonal flu, bird flu and swine flu.

Democrats argued that there is no mandate to prevent, and that, in any case, a COVID-19 vaccination can save lives.

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