SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday announced the country’s first coronavirus vaccination mandate for schoolchildren, a plan that will allow all elementary to high school students to be vaccinated once the vaccine is released. will have obtained final approval from the US government for different age groups.
The government has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older, but has only granted emergency use authorization to anyone 12 to 15 years of age. Once federal regulators fully approve the vaccine for this group, the state will require students in grades 7 to 12. get vaccinated in public and private schools, Newsom’s office said.
The state will only require the COVID-19 vaccine for kindergarten to sixth graders after the federal government gives its final approval for anyone 5 to 11 years old.
The announcement comes as infections across much of California have declined significantly over the past month. But Newsom was emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month following a campaign in which he underscored his commitment to immunization mandates to end the pandemic.
In Los Angeles County – the largest in the country, with more than 10 million people – only 1.7% of people tested for the virus have it and daily infections have halved over the past month, when most of the children have returned to school.
“These numbers are incredibly low given that more than 3,000 schools are now open across the county,” county health director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.
She noted that although the number of outbreaks in schools has increased slightly in recent weeks, the overall number is low and largely linked to youth sports.
The state’s vaccine mandate would come into effect the semester of final federal approval. If it comes in January, then the mandate would come into effect in July.
Students would benefit from religious and medical exemptions, but rules for how the state would enforce those exemptions have yet to be written. Any student who refused to be vaccinated would be forced to take an independent home study course.
Until now, Newsom had left the decision on student immunization mandates to local school districts, which has led to a variety of different orders in some of the state’s larger districts.
Los Angeles and Oakland Unified have required all students over 12 to be vaccinated, but the Oakland ordinance did not set a deadline by which students must comply. LA has set the deadline for January 20.
Earlier this week, the San Diego Unified School Board approved a mandate that staff and students aged 16 and older must be fully immunized by December 20.
Newsom has made a point of being the first in the country to issue a variety of school warrants related to the pandemic.
In August, California became the first state in the United States to require all teachers and staff in public and private schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly. Newsom also issued a school mask warrant earlier in the summer for indoor classes that applies to all teachers and students.