Governor Announces First-in-Nation Vaccine Requirement for Students in California

The first-in-the-nation requirement will go into effect after full FDA approval of the vaccine for use in children ages 12 and older.

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What to Know

  • California will require FDA-approved COVID vaccines for eligible students statewide, a first-in-the-nation step to fight the coronavirus.
  • Any student who refuses to take the vaccine would be required to complete an independent study course at home.
  • All eligible students ages 12 and over in the Los Angeles Unified School District are already required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes.

Gov. Newsom announced Friday a statewide requirement for all eligible students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in a first-of-its-kind step in the U.S. to fight the coronavirus.

The requirement will be implemented at the start of the first school term after the vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on children ages 12 older, Newsom said. If the federal government grants final approval in January, then the mandate would take effect in July.

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19," Newsom said. "Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom.

"Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19.

Gov. Gavin Newsom

In August, California became the first state to require that all public school teachers and staff be vaccinated before returning to campus or submit to weekly testing for COVID. Some California school districts already had stronger rules, including requirements for vaccinations and tests for students.

But Friday's announcement means that vaccine requirement will be expanded statewide.

"While there continues to be encouraging signs and continuing to see progress with more and more people who maybe were on the fence, that are now getting the vaccine ... there's still a struggle to get to where we need to go, and that means we need to do more and we need to do better,'' Newsom said while making the announcement at a San Francisco school.

The government has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and over but only granted an emergency authorization for anyone 12 to 15. Once federal regulators fully approve the vaccine for that group, the state will require students in seventh through 12th grades to get vaccinated in both public and private schools, Newsom’s office said.

The state will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grade only after the federal government has given final approval for anyone 5 to 11.

Pfizer-BioNTech submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration at the end of September to clear its vaccine for use in children ages 5 to 11. The process of analyzing the data will take at least several weeks before the FDA would grant emergency use authorization.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only Covid vaccine available to Americans under 18. In June, Moderna submitted data to the FDA to use its vaccine in children ages 12 to 17. Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine s in clinical trials for use in younger recipients.

A poll conducted by the University of Michigan of 1,700 parents found that vaccination rates of teachers and students were their biggest concern, while repeating virtual classes, large groups of students and falling behind academically were also mentioned.

Newsom's announcement comes as infections in most of California have dropped markedly in the last month. But Newsom has been emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month following a campaign where he emphasized his commitment to vaccine mandates to end the pandemic.

In Los Angeles County — the nation’s largest, with more than 10 million residents — just 1.7% of people tested for the virus have it and daily infections are down by half in the last month, when most kids went back to school.

“These numbers are amazingly low given that 3,000-plus schools are now open countywide,” county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

She noted that though the number of outbreaks in schools has increased slightly in recent weeks, the overall number is small and largely related to youth sports.

Students would be granted religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would apply those exemptions have not been written yet. Any student who refuses to take the vaccine would be forced to complete an independent study course at home.

Until now, Newsom had left the decision on student vaccine mandates to local school districts, leading to a variety of different orders across some of the state’s largest districts.

Los Angeles and Oakland Unified have mandated all students over 12 to be vaccinated, but Oakland’s order has not set a deadline for when students must comply. LA set a deadline of Jan. 20.

Earlier this week, the San Diego Unified school board approved a mandate that staff and students age 16 and older be fully vaccinated by Dec. 20.

Newsom has made it a point of pride to be the first in the nation to issue a variety of pandemic-related school mandates.

In August, California became the first state in the U.S. to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Newsom also issued a school mask mandate earlier in the summer for indoor classes that applies to all teachers and students.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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