FACT CHECK: Biden's Education Secretary Insists He Didn't Support Mandatory COVID Vaccines for Schoolchildren

May 16, 2023

Claim: President Joe Biden's education secretary, Miguel Cardona, "did not encourage states to adopt student vaccine mandates."

Who said it: Cardona himself on Tuesday during testimony to the House Education Committee.

Why it matters: COVID vaccine mandates for minors became a hot-button issue after the Food and Drug Administration in August 2021 approved the shot for people as young as 16. At the time, the vaccine was also available under emergency use for children aged 12 to 15, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later went on to recommend the jab for infants as young as six months.

But those recommendations failed to sway a majority of American parents—51 percent of adults do not think K-12 schools should require students to get the COVID vaccine, according to a 2022 KFF poll.

Context: Cardona became Biden's education secretary in March 2021, just months before the FDA approved the COVID vaccine for some minors. Six months into his tenure, in September 2021, Cardona declared his full-throated support for mandatory COVID vaccines for eligible children.

"Not only do I support it, but I'm encouraging states to come up with a plan to make sure it happens," Cardona told Politico.

Nearly two years later, lawmakers pressed Cardona on that stance during a Tuesday House Education Committee hearing. California Republican congressman Kevin Kiley asked Cardona if he encouraged "states to adopt student vaccine mandates," and the education secretary declared that he did not.

"I did not encourage states to adopt student vaccine mandates," Cardona responded. When Kiley presented Cardona with his Politico quote, the Biden appointee told the Republican to "talk to the person that was in that position then." Cardona served as education secretary when Politico published its article on his support for school vaccine mandates.

Analysis: Cardona, whose office did not return a request for comment, says he "did not encourage states to adopt student vaccine mandates" and merely supported "local districts where they were having vaccine mandates."

The statement directly contradicts Cardona's comments in 2021, when he urged governors to "work with their school officials and with their health officials to roll out" vaccine requirements, "especially in areas that are high-spread."

Cardona's contradiction suggests the Biden appointee now understands the controversial nature of COVID vaccine mandates for children. In 2021, however, Cardona "dismissed the possibility that his call for broader vaccinations could result in political backlash," according to Politico.

"This is about safely reopening schools," Cardona said at the time. "And what we know, based … not only on the COVID-19 vaccine, but the other vaccines that are already mandatory for school enrollment, is that they work. Our students have been disrupted enough, and sometimes you have to be crystal clear on what you believe."

Verdict: We rate this claim 4 Clintons.
clinton illustration clinton illustration clinton illustration clinton illustration