California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all students – the first requirement of its kind in the United States.
Both public and private students at "elementary and secondary schools" will be required to be vaccinated for in-person learning starting the academic term or semester following full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of the vaccine for their grade span – 7-12 and K-6.
That could mean vaccination requirements taking effect on Jan. 1 or July 1 for grades 7-12, whichever date comes first following approval.
Approval for grades K-6 is expected to come later in a second phase of requirements, the governor added.
"We are mindful that we still have work to do," the governor said on Friday. "We are humbled by the challenge, but we want to get this thing done. We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it."
Certain medical, personal and religious beliefs are included as exemptions in the guidelines. The state's Department of Public Health is expected to determine specific guidelines around exceptions in the coming months. In response to a question about consequences over those refusing to get vaccinated, the governor was less than detailed. "I like to focus on the positive, not the negative," he said. "We tend to highlight a little bit of the exceptions. We'll work through those things."
Vaccines for diseases like measles, chickenpox, mumps and rubella are already required for students in California. "This is just another vaccine," Newsom said of the first-in-the-nation mandate.
"A student who is not vaccinated may remain enrolled in independent study, but may not attend in-person instruction," per the governor’s order.
In August, Newsom and the state's Department of Public Health took the unprecedented step of requiring all California teachers and school staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face weekly testing. As part of Friday's announcement, the existing staff requirement "will be converted to a vaccine mandate no later than when the first phase of the student requirement becomes effective."
Several districts around the U.S., including the Oakland Unified School District, Piedmont Unified School District and West Contra Costa Unified School District, have already moved forward with vaccine mandates for students, among others in Southern California.
The governor made the announcement at a middle school in San Francisco. He was joined by administrators from the San Francisco Unified School District and State Sen. Scott Wiener.