Sabrina Werley works with her 4th grade students in a math support class in April 2021. (Reading Eagle Photo via Getty Images/Ben Hasty) Cumru Township Elementary School
Sabrina Werley works with her 4th grade students in a math support class in April 2021. (Reading Eagle Photo via Getty Images/Ben Hasty)

Republicans have advanced legislation to prevent the COVID-19 vaccines from being a required immunization to enter school even though it has been proven effective at preventing severe illness from the disease.

To attend school in Pennsylvania, students must be immunized against a litany of infectious diseases. COVID-19 is not one of them.

Nor has there been any talk of including it. Yet that hasn’t stopped state Republican lawmakers from trying to push through a bill prohibiting it from happening.

SB 937 would prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates for children and as a condition for entry into K-12 schools. Introduced by Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Mercer), the bill passed the state Senate by a 28-21 vote along party lines in December. It is now in the House Education Committee.

“This legislation is not about the vaccine itself; it is about parental options,” Brooks, whose Senate district has the fifth-lowest vaccination rate in the state, said on the Senate floor. “There’s nothing more local than parental options.”

Republican lawmakers have contested statewide mitigation efforts, including shutdowns and masking requirements, since the pandemic began. They have stressed local control when it comes to mask mandates in schools and have argued that parents should decide what is best for their children.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has come out against the bill, calling it “a waste of time and taxpayer money.”

“The administration has no plans to mandate vaccines for K-12 schools so this is nothing more than a distraction from the real issues Pennsylvanians are facing that Republicans should be addressing; namely, ending the pandemic by encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated, supporting our workforce and growing our economy,” Wolf’s office said in a statement.

Democrats don’t understand why the bill is even being considered.

“What is curious about this is that we don’t have a mandate,” Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) said before the Senate vote. “So we’re passing a bill to prevent a mandate that we don’t have. I don’t understand that.”

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said the bill, and a lack of COVID-19 vaccinations, could jeopardize public health. 

“I got grandchildren, and I want my grandchildren to be safe in any and all situations,” he said. “I would expect that when the science that we have right now – that has concluded that the vaccination of our children protects their own individual health, and the health of the other children around them – that we would accept that science in the context of a virus that is extremely contagious.”

During the pandemic, COVID-19 hospitalization rates for children were nearly three times higher than hospitalization rates for the flu, according to a CDC report published in June. Among those children hospitalized for COVID-19, about a third required intensive care.

Data also shows that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. In Pennsylvania, 83% of reported hospitalizations and 80% of COVID-related deaths from January 2021 to February 2022 were in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people.