California’s K-12 students will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend classes in person once federal regulators fully approve the available vaccines for younger age groups, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.
The vaccine requirement for students — the first of its kind issued by a state government, Newsom touted — would take effect at the beginning of the school term following full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, either Jan. 1 or July 1, 2022.
The requirement would first apply to students age 12 and older in grades seven through 12, according to Newsom, and would at a later date apply to the remaining students under age 12.
“We want to end this pandemic,” Newsom said Friday during a briefing at James Denman Middle School in San Francisco. “We are all exhausted by it, and the purpose of this is to continue to lead in that space. I believe we will be the first state in American to move forward with this mandate and requirement but I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination will be the last state.”
A handful of school districts have already issued their own vaccine mandates for students or are considering doing so, including the Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco Unified, San Jose Unified and West Contra Costa Unified school districts.
Newsom, who has often emphasized the importance of tailoring the state’s pandemic response to the wants and needs of local governments, argued that school districts will still have the flexibility to enact vaccination requirements ahead of the state’s deadline if they choose to do so.
“We recognize in a state that’s larger than 21 other states combined that one size cannot fit all — with one caveat, and that is baseline expectations,” he said. “And that’s what we’re providing here is a baseline expectation.”
To date, only the two-dose vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech has been fully approved by the FDA, and only for people ages 16 and older.
However, it has been available under emergency use authorization since May to children as young as age 12. According to Newsom, roughly 63.5 percent of children age 12 to 17 have received at least one vaccine dose.
The vaccines developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen are expected to receive full approval as soon as November as federal health officials weigh clinical data on the vaccines’ safety and efficacy among children under 12.
Newsom argued that the vaccine requirement, in concept, is no different than the requirements the state has had for years for illnesses including measles, polio, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
“In so many ways, it’s the most familiar conversation,” he said. “Because every parent has had this conversation since they brought their kids into school, public or private: they have to be vaccinated.”
Newsom added that the requirement will include the standard exemptions for people who cannot get vaccinated due to religious or medical reasons.
In a statement, California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd said the union supported requiring COVID-19 vaccines for students just as it supported the state’s requirement for teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or test for the virus regularly.
“Since the beginning, CTA has called for access to vaccines, testing and multi-layered safety measures in order to be reunited with our students in our classrooms,” Boyd said. “As the science advances and COVID vaccines are approved for younger students, this in the next step toward ensuring the health and safety of our schools and communities consistent with other vaccine requirements in schools.”