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 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.
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“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 be required 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
Some Austin-area districts 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, part of the USA TODAY Network. “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 doesn’t have the authority to set its own policies, spokesman Tim Savoy said.