Will Texas students be required to get COVID vaccinations to attend school?

Texas law does not establish vaccine requirements based on CDC’s recommendations, instead state officials make the call

Boy in a green shirt. Classroom stock image. (Pexels)

SAN ANTONIO – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee unanimously voted Thursday to add the COVID vaccine to its list of recommended immunizations for 2023.

However, the move does not mean that American children will be mandated to take the vaccine before attending public school.

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That’s because the CDC does not mandate immunization requirements for vaccines in schools, instead they “only make recommendations for use of vaccines, while school-entry vaccination requirements are determined by state or local jurisdictions,” agency officials said in a press release Thursday.

Despite those facts, claims made by Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and echoed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz have driven some confusion and anger around the recent vote’s consequences.

The controversy went national Tuesday when Carlson said that the CDC’s decision to potentially add the vaccine to the recommended immunization schedule would mean “your children will not be able to attend school without taking the COVID shot.”

CDC officials corrected that claim on Twitter, posting that “states establish vaccine requirements for school children, not ACIP [CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] or CDC.”

Carlson argued that the government agency is lying because “more than a dozen states follow the CDC’s immunization schedule to set vaccination requirements, not suggestions, requirements for children to be educated.”

That does not include Texas.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz released the following statement on Friday regarding the CDC’s recommendation:

“The CDC continues to make recommendations that ignore science, erode public trust, and target Americans’ healthcare freedom. Sadly, too many states will wield this recommendation as a mandate to force children to receive the COVID vaccine in order to attend school. This will result in discrimination against conscience objectors and – particularly in Washington, D.C. – against black schoolchildren.

“The CDC knows this, but doesn’t care. It doesn’t care that children’s education will suffer, or that children are at low risk from COVID-19, or that 86 percent of children already caught the virus, or that the vaccine does little to prevent transmission. All it cares about is an agenda that punishes dissenters. I’ll do everything in my power to fight against it.”

Texas law does not establish vaccine requirements based on CDC’s recommendations

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is responsible for setting immunization requirements, according to state law.

KSAT reached out to DSHS via email Friday and asked if COVID vaccines would become a requirement for children to attend school.

The full response KSAT received was “we’ll follow the direction of the Legislature on this.”

KSAT responded to ask about DSHS’s apparent authority to set the required immunizations for public school attendance in Texas but has not received an answer as of publication.

The DSHS website states “the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is granted authority to set immunization requirements by the Texas Education Code, Chapter 38.”

Texas law specifically says DSHS “may modify or delete any of the immunizations... or may require immunizations against additional diseases as a requirement for admission to any elementary or secondary school.”

Further, the law states: “Each year, the Department of State Health Services shall prepare a list of the immunizations required under this section for admission to public schools and of any additional immunizations the department recommends for school-age children.”

Current Texas law requires that all students be fully immunized against diphtheria, rubeola, rubella, mumps, tetanus, and poliomyelitis with some exceptions for health and religious purposes. See the embedded document below for more details on current requirements as laid out by DSHS.

Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze sent KSAT the following statement regarding vaccine requirements in Texas schools:

“Texas has a longstanding law that protects parents’ rights to decide what vaccinations their children will get. To protect Texans’ right to choose for themselves and their children, Governor Abbott issued an executive order last year ensuring exceptions based on religious belief, personal conscience, or medical condition, including prior recovery from COVID.”

KSAT also reached out to the Texas Education Agency.

About the Authors

Kolten Parker is Manager of Content and Coverage at KSAT. He moved into the role in 2024, after five years of leading the digital team. Kolten is an award-winning journalist and a proud Texas State Bobcat. He's a triathlete who loves the outdoors and sports. When not working, he likes to hang out with his wife and travel.

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