CDC corrects conservative claim: They can recommend, not mandate COVID vaccines in schools

Tucker Carlson had suggested otherwise on his show this week.

October 20, 2022, 3:33 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week pushed back on a claim made by Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who said on his show that a CDC decision was likely coming to force kids to get COVID-19 vaccines in order to attend school.

But that's not technically within the CDC's authority, as the CDC pointed out in a rare tweet on Wednesday correcting a recent segment by Carlson, who has a history of criticizing COVID vaccine policy or sharing incorrect information about the shots.

Twitter also included a disclaimer along with the video from his show.

Carlson had claimed Tuesday that at an upcoming meeting of the CDC's advisory committee, the agency was "expected to" update the list of routine childhood immunizations and include the COVID-19 vaccine, which would soon mean that kids "will not be able to attend school without taking the COVID shot."

But the CDC clarified that its meeting, scheduled for Thursday, was a broader annual gathering to adjust and update the slate of vaccines doctors should recommend to their patients, from adults down to children, and that the list of vaccines does not dictate what requirements schools put into place.

"States establish vaccine requirements," the CDC wrote in response to Carlson's segment.

The decision on whether schools require the COVID vaccine -- which data shows has become increasingly politicized across the country -- cannot be decided at the federal level by the CDC. It's made at the local level, and some local Republican figures quickly voiced opposition to their states adopting the recommendations.

PHOTO: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Hearing on the Federal response to monkeypox, at the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., Sept. 14, 2022.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Hearing on the Federal response to monkeypox, at the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., Sept. 14, 2022.
Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP

"State laws establish vaccination requirements for school children. These laws often apply not only to children attending public schools but also to those attending private schools and day care facilities," the CDC writes on its website.

"All states provide medical exemptions, and some state laws also offer exemptions for religious and/or philosophical reasons," the agency writes.

On Thursday afternoon, the committee met and voted to add the COVID vaccine, now available to anyone 6 months or older, to its list of recommendations.

The agency's vote has multiple practical effects: Not only will it likely influence some states in their decisions to require the vaccine for schoolchildren, it will also allow adults and children to have the vaccine covered by insurance once the federal government stops paying for the inoculations next year.

Other states, however, won't be following that guideline or are under pressure from Republicans not to do so.

"COVID mandates are NOT allowed in FL," Joseph A. Ladapo, Florida's surgeon general, tweeted this week before the CDC committee's vote.

Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial Doug Mastriano likewise declared on Twitter: "When I'm Governor, PA will NOT mandate the COVID vaccine-no matter what the CDC says."

While there could be grace periods for when the vaccine requirements begin or an increase in exemptions, it is likely as Carlson suggested that the COVID vaccine will be required in more schools during the upcoming 2023 school year.

In a response on his show on Wednesday, Carlson argued that the CDC's recommendations essentially have the force of law because they are historically adopted by many states -- though the criticism the agency's recommendation drew this week suggests that won't be the case with COVID shots.

PHOTO: Andre Mattus, right, a nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center, gives the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Amar Gunderson, 6 1/2, Nov. 9, 2021, in Seattle.
Andre Mattus, right, a nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center, gives the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Amar Gunderson, 6 1/2, Nov. 9, 2021, in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren/AP, FILE

A CDC advisory committee meeting on Wednesday separately decided to add the COVID vaccine to the Vaccines for Children program, a government-funded initiative that allows children to get a host of recommended inoculations for free if they aren't insured or can't afford to pay.

"Equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all ages and populations remains critically important," the CDC's Dr. Sara Oliver said at the meeting. "This includes now, while the vaccines are being supplied by the federal government, and in the future, when we one day move to a commercial program."

Federal government officials have said that the current vaccine campaign, to get updated booster shots this fall and winter, could be the last vaccine campaign the government funds. The private insurance market is expected to take on more and more of the process beginning in 2023, much in the way patients go through their health care providers for other vaccines and treatments.

Adding the COVID vaccines to the Vaccines for Children program will "allow children that don't have insurance to gain access to this vaccine" even after the vaccines are absorbed by the commercial market, said Dr. José Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases within the CDC.

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