Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Ian at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers, Fla., on Oct. 5, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
By Zachary Stieber
Republican governors and gubernatorial hopefuls are promising to prevent COVID-19 vaccine requirements for children to attend school.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moves toward adopting an updated immunization schedule that will include COVID-19 vaccines, Republican governors and candidates say the update won’t lead to mandates in their states.
“As long as I’m around, as long as I’m kicking and screaming, there will be no COVID shot mandate for your kids,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican running for reelection, said during an unrelated press conference in Lee County. “That is your decision to make as parents.”
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, also a Republican, said in a video statement that “as long as I’m governor, I will continue to protect your children, and I’ll fight off anyone and the federal government who tries to force the COVID vaccine on our kids.”
“Regardless of what the CDC in Washington says, nothing changes in Oklahoma, and kids are not required to get a COVID vaccine to attend school,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said in a statement. “It’s up to parents to decide how to protect their child from viruses, and as long as I am governor, we will never force kids to get a COVID vaccine to go to school.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, another Republican, wrote on Twitter that he has always opposed mandates:
“Thanks to our work with the General Assembly, TN families won’t be impacted by today’s CDC vote. We’ll continue to stand for TN children & for personal freedom.”
Advisers to the CDC voted on Oct. 20 to recommend including the COVID-19 vaccines on the next version of the child and adolescent immunization schedules, which will be published in early 2023.
The CDC still has to adopt the recommendation, but the agency has been aggressively pro-vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advisers said they believe the data on the vaccines warrants their inclusion on the schedule, despite the vaccines only being available through emergency use authorization for many children.
Several Republican candidates also said they’ll oppose child vaccine mandates if they’re elected.
“When I’m Governor, PA will NOT mandate the COVID vaccine—no matter what the CDC says,” Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, said in a statement.
Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for Arizona governor, said, “Arizona will NOT be forcing COVID shots into our children’s arms or filthy masks onto their beautiful faces.”
Few Democrat governors or gubernatorial hopefuls have appeared to react to the pending immunization schedule changes.
South Dakota state Rep. Jamie Smith, a Democrat who’s challenging Noem, has supported legislation to require masks and vaccines but none specifically for school children. He pushed back when Noem referenced his past support when discussing the CDC vote.
South Dakota “is ready for change,” he said, accusing Noem of lying.
A number of states—predominantly those led by Democrats, such as California, New Mexico, and Illinois—have laws in place that require vaccines that are listed in the schedule, according to the University of Illinois Chicago’s Policy, Practice, and Prevention Research Center (pdf).
Others include Oregon, Kentucky, and West Virginia.