A state lawmaker said he wants to ensure that all school students in Los Angeles and throughout the state are vaccinated against COVID-19, and to do that, he announced a proposal to eliminate personal belief exemptions and expand upon a state vaccine mandate.

“We have an opportunity here to keep kids safe,” Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said on Monday during a California Medical Assn. news conference at Arleta High School in the San Fernando Valley, where the legislator and pediatrician announced details of the Keep Schools Open and Safe Act.

“As a pediatrician, parent and legislator, I am committed to giving the public confidence and certainty that we are working to prevent or slow down the next coronavirus surge,” Pan said. “Legislators have the ability to pass laws to make our communities safe, including increasing vaccination rates to keep schools open and safe.”

Under state law, personal belief exemptions must be allowed for any newly required childhood vaccine unless the legislature passes a law banning them.

Pan said closing the personal belief exemption loophole for the “safe and effective” shots ensures that “every medically eligible student attending school in person is vaccinated.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a statewide school vaccination mandate, but it will not take effect statewide until a vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Pan’s bill would require the shots even if they are only being offered under an emergency-use authorization by the FDA. Anyone aged 5 and older is currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Keep Schools Open and Safe Act builds on SB 277, also sponsored by Pan, which eliminated the personal belief exemption loophole for all other childhood vaccinations required for public and private school students when it became law in 2015.

“The most effective way to keep schools open and safe is to ensure the COVID vaccination rate of students and school staff is as high as possible in addition to masks, testing and good ventilation to minimize infections,” Pan said. “My legislation will give parents great certainty that their child is unlikely to get seriously sick and their school will stay open during COVID.”

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