CDC vote did not make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for children

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Tucker-Carlson: “The CDC is about to add the COVID vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule, which would make vax mandatory for children to attend school.”

PolitiFact’s decision: Generally false

Here’s why: A routine meeting of a group of vaccine experts who advise the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has become the target of a misinformation storm after unfounded rumors that the group’s vote could result in warrants nationwide COVID-19 vaccine for schoolchildren.

The misleading claims caused an uproar on social media.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson weighed in, Tweeter, “The CDC is about to add the COVID vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule, which would make vax mandatory for children to attend school.” He also talked about it on his October 18 TV show.

But Carlson’s claim misrepresents the impact of the CDC’s advisory committee vote. States set vaccination requirements for attending school or daycare, not the CDC.

On October 20, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to add COVID-19 vaccines to the CDC’s childhood and adult immunization schedules in 2023.

The CDC’s immunization schedules are a set of recommendations for routine immunizations, which are based on input from the advisory committee. The committee — a group of medical and public health experts, including vaccine experts, doctors and scientists — reviews data on new and existing vaccines to make its recommendations. Schedules are also endorsed by medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics for children and the American College of Physicians for adults.

Experts told PolitiFact that the committee’s vote to include COVID-19 vaccines in the CDC’s routine immunization schedule is only a recommendation on which vaccines to administer. It’s not a warrant.

Although state officials consider the recommendations of the CDC’s advisory committee when setting their requirements, experts said no state is following the CDC’s recommendations to the letter.

The advisory committee’s recommendations are influential, but not determinative, said Dorit Reiss, an expert in vaccine mandates at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

The CDC refuted Carlson’s claims, retweeting him and adding, “States set vaccine requirements for school children, not ACIP or CDC.”

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PolitiFact reached out to Carlson for comment, and his spokesperson directed us to a segment of his Oct. 19 show, where he doubled down on his request. He fired back at the CDC, saying the agency lied because “more than a dozen states follow the CDC’s vaccination schedule to establish vaccination requirements — not suggestions, terms – so that the children go to school.”

He said states like Massachusetts, Tennessee, New Jersey, Vermont and Ohio have policies requiring students to receive vaccines included in the CDC’s immunization schedule. However, that is not what their policies say.

Katie Warchut, spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Health, explained that state law sets vaccination requirements for school attendance. The department convenes its own advisory committee that considers CDC recommendations, she said, “but is not bound by them.”

For example, although the CDC’s immunization schedule recommends the flu vaccine, it is not on Vermont’s list of vaccines required for school attendance. It is recommended.

What did the CDC committee vote on?

On Oct. 20, the advisory committee was voting “on updates to the 2023 childhood and adult immunization schedules, including the addition of approved or licensed COVID-19 vaccines,” said Kate Grusich, spokeswoman for the CDC, before the vote. The committee then voted to add the COVID-19 vaccine.

Grusich said adding COVID-19 vaccines to immunization schedules would streamline clinical guidelines for healthcare providers by including all “currently authorized, authorized and routinely recommended vaccines” in one place. (The adult vaccination schedule is here; the children’s schedule is here.)

The CDC’s advisory committee was already recommending COVID-19 vaccines for children and including them in an interim vaccination schedule, said Reiss of UC Hastings School of Law.

The Oct. 20 discussion focused on “whether to put them on the routine schedule and whether they should be recommended generally, not just for emergencies,” Reiss said.

COVID-19 vaccines are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and licensed for children 12 and older. For younger age groups, vaccines remain under emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Who sets vaccine requirements for school districts?

The CDC does not determine which vaccines students need to receive to attend school or daycare, experts said. States set these requirements.

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Dr. William Schaffner, professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said there are no vaccination mandates in federal schools — from Congress or the CDC. “It never happened,” he said.

Schaffner serves on the CDC Advisory Board as a nonvoting liaison representative for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Each state has its own process by which new vaccines can be added to the list of required vaccinations, Schaffner said. He said he doesn’t think the CDC’s vaccine schedule update will prompt states to require COVID-19 vaccines.

“That didn’t happen for the flu vaccine,” Schaffner said. “Everyone in the United States 6 months and older should get a flu shot every year. This has been the recommendation of the CDC advisory committee for over a decade. I don’t believe there is one State that has a mandate for flu shots.”

Reiss confirmed that no state requires flu shots for school attendance and that “only a minority” require them for daycare.

Our decision

Carlson tweeted, “The CDC is about to add the COVID vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule, which would make vax mandatory for children to attend school.”

This distorts the scope of the CDC’s vaccination schedule. It’s not a warrant.

The CDC does not set vaccination requirements for attending school or daycare; states do that. Although state officials consider CDC recommendations when setting their vaccination requirements, experts said no state is following the recommendations to the letter.

The statement contains an element of truth because the vaccine was added to the childhood immunization schedule. But he ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim primarily false.

PolitiFact reporter Jeff Cercone contributed research and reporting to this fact check. PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed research to this report.

Our Sources

  • Interview with Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, October 19, 2022
  • Email interview with Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, UC Hastings law professor, October 19, 2022
  • Emailed statement from Kate Grusich, CDC spokesperson, October 19, 2022
  • Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, An Update on CDC Considering Adding COVID Vaccine to Childhood Immunization Schedule, October 19, 2022v
  • Tweeter from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 19, 2022
  • United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Who sets the vaccination schedule? accessed 19 October 2022
  • United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About VFC, accessed 19 October 2022
  • Internet Archive, Tucker Carlson Tonight – Fox News, October 18, 2022
  • United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACIP meeting agenda October 19-20, 2022, accessed October 19, 2022
  • United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, State Vaccination Requirements, accessed October 19, 2022
  • United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 Vaccine: Interim COVID-19 iImmunization schedule for persons 6 month of age and above, accessed 20 October 2022
  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for young children, June 18, 2022
  • United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Overview of COVID-19 vaccines, accessed October 19, 2022
  • Mass.gov, School vaccinations, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Mass.gov, Massachusetts school vaccination requirements 2022-2023, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Tennessee Department of Health, Required Vaccinations, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee Department of Health Rules, Accessed October 20, 2022
  • New Jersey, Summary of NJ school vaccination requirements, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Vermont General Assembly, The Vermont Statutes Online: Title 18: Health, Chapter 21: Communicable Diseases, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Vermont Department of Health, Immunization information for child care and school providers, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Vermont Department of Health, Vermont, Mandatory and Recommended Immunization Schedule for Children and Teens, Accessed October 20, 2022
  • Vermont Department of Health, Immunization schedule of vaccines required for child care, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Ohio Department of Health, Director’s Journal – academic requirements, accessed October 20, 2022
  • Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Immunization Summary for School Attendance, Accessed October 20, 2022
  • Emailed statement from Katie Warchut, spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Health, October 20, 2022
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule, October 20, 2022
  • NBC News, CDC Group Approves Addition of Covid Vaccines to Recommended Immunization Schedule, October 20, 2022
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ACIP Vaccination Schedule Vote, October 20, 2022
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