A routine meeting of a group of vaccine experts who advise the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became the target of a storm of misinformation after unfounded rumors that the group’s vote could result in nationwide COVID-19 vaccine mandates for school children.
The misleading claims caused an uproar on social media.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson weighed in, tweeting, “The CDC is about to add the COVID vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule, which would make the vax mandatory for kids to attend school.” He also discussed it during his Oct. 18 television show.
But Carlson’s claim misrepresents the impact of the CDC advisory committee’s vote. States establish vaccination requirements for attending school or day care, not the CDC.
The CDC’s immunization schedules are a set of recommendations for routine vaccinations, which are based the advisory committee’s input. The committee — a group of medical and public health experts, including vaccine experts, doctors and scientists — reviews the data on new and existing vaccines to make its recommendations. The schedules are also approved 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 for what vaccines should be given. It is not a mandate.
Although state officials consider the CDC advisory committee’s recommendations when setting their requirements, experts said no state follows the CDC recommendations to the letter.
The advisory committee’s recommendations are influential, but not determinative, said Dorit Reiss, an expert on vaccine mandates at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
The CDC refuted Carlson’s claims, retweeting him and adding, “States establish vaccine requirements for school children, not ACIP or CDC.”
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 claim. He fired back at the CDC, saying the agency had lied because “more than a dozen states follow the CDC’s immunization schedule to set vaccination requirements — not suggestions, requirements — for children to be educated.”
He said states including Massachusetts, Tennessee, New Jersey, Vermont and Ohio have policies requiring that students receive the vaccines included in the CDC’s immunization schedule. However, that’s not what their policies say.
Katie Warchut, a spokesperson for Vermont’s Department of Health, explained that state statute sets immunization requirements for school attendance. The department convenes its own advisory committee that takes the CDC’s recommendations into account, she said, “but is not bound by them.”
On Oct. 20, the advisory committee was voting “on updates to the 2023 childhood and adult immunization schedules, including whether to add approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines,” Kate Grusich, a CDC spokesperson, said before the vote. The committee later voted in favor of adding the COVID-19 vaccine.
Grusich said that adding the COVID-19 vaccines to the immunization schedules would streamline clinical guidance for medical providers by including all “currently licensed, authorized and routinely recommended vaccines” in one place. (The immunization schedule for adults is here; the children’s schedule is here.)
The discussion Oct. 20 was about “whether to put them on the routine schedule, and address whether they should be recommended generally, not just as an emergency,” Reiss said.
The COVID-19 vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and licensed for children ages 12 and older. For younger age groups, the vaccines remain under an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.
The CDC does not determine which vaccines students are required to receive to attend school or day care, experts said. States set those requirements.
Dr. William Schaffner, a health policy professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said there are no federal school vaccination mandates — from Congress or the CDC. “It’s never happened,” he said.
Schaffner serves on the CDC’s advisory committee as a non-voting 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 immunizations, Schaffner said. He said he does not believe the update to the CDC’s immunization schedule will prompt states to require COVID-19 vaccines.
“It hasn’t happened for the influenza vaccine,” Schaffner said. “Everyone in the United States 6 months and older should be vaccinated against influenza on an annual basis. That’s been the recommendation from the CDC’s advisory committee for over a decade. I don’t believe there’s a single state that has a mandate for flu vaccines.”
Reiss confirmed that no state requires flu vaccines for school attendance and “only a minority” require it for daycare.
Carlson tweeted, “The CDC is about to add the COVID vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule, which would make the vax mandatory for kids to attend school.”
That misrepresents the reach of the CDC’s immunization schedule. It is not a mandate.
The CDC does not establish vaccination requirements for attending school or day care; states do that. Although state officials consider CDC recommendations when setting their immunization requirements, experts said no states follow the recommendations to the letter.
The statement contains an element of truth because the vaccine was added to the childhood immunization schedule. But it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.
PolitiFact reporter Jeff Cercone contributed research and reporting to this fact-check. PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed research to this report.