Gov. Greg Abbott told state and local education officials Thursday that Texas school districts couldn’t mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for students as one of the various shots required for public school entry.
Abbott’s directive comes weeks after a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee recommended the COVID-19 shot be added to the list of required vaccines for students, which in Texas would be just one of about a dozen required immunizations.
In two separate letters sent to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and to superintendents across the state, Abbott said existing state law overrides the CDC’s vaccine recommendation. On Aug. 5, 2021, Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities from issuing vaccine mandates.
“Despite attempts at federal overreach into the health care decisions of Americans, in Texas we continue to honor and defend the freedom of parents to choose what is best for the health and well-being of their families,” Abbott said in the letters.
Abbott’s order means parents can opt their child out of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to his letter.
Abbott has continued to renew the state pandemic disaster declaration he issued in March 2020 — a measure that keeps in place the 40 executive orders and suspensions of Texas law he issued to address the coronavirus pandemic.
The CDC hasn’t adopted its committee’s recommendation to include COVID-19 shots in its list of preferred vaccines for school children. If the CDC did recommend the vaccine, states still wouldn’t have to adopt the guidance.
When the CDC committee announced its recommendation in October, state officials, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, rejected the proposal.
Paxton signed his name on a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services denouncing the CDC committee’s recommendation. Florida Attorney General Jeff Landry authored the letter.
What Austin-area school districts say
Austin-area districts who responded to requests for comment Thursday said they don’t foresee the order having much effect on their operations.
“We have always planned to proceed with Covid vaccination as a parent/student choice,” the Austin district told the American-Statesman. “Unless the Texas Department of State Health Services adds the vaccine to the required list, we will continue to support vaccination efforts as a parent choice.”
The Eanes and Elgin districts haven’t required COVID-19 vaccines for students and don’t plan on doing so, spokespeople said.
The Hays district follows vaccine requirements set by the state, and it doesn’t have the authority to set its own policy on vaccine requirements, spokesman Tim Savoy said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services, in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency, sets vaccine requirements for students. The health services department last month said it didn’t have any plans to add the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of required inoculations.
Children entering kindergarten must be vaccinated against various diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hepatitis A and B and chickenpox, according to the Department of State Health Services.
Students entering seventh grade also must have a meningococcal vaccine.
Parents can exempt their children from vaccinations if a physician provides a statement with a medical reason or for “reasons of conscience, including a religious belief,” according to the department.
In the 2021-22 school year, almost 93.8% of Texas public school children were immunized with all required vaccines, according to the department.