Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that all eligible students at K-12 schools in California must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person teaching. It is the first statewide vaccination mandate for students in the country.
There will be medical and personal belief exemptions, according to the governor. However, he said getting students vaccinated is key to keeping schools open.
"We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it," said Newsom.
The mandate will come into effect for students in grades 7-12 the semester after a vaccine receives full authorization from the FDA, the governor said. Students in kindergarten through grade 6 would need to get their vaccination once approval is granted for their age group.
Currently, the FDA has granted emergency approval to the Pfizer vaccine for kids age 12 and older, Full authorization has been granted for those age 16 and up.
State Senator Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco, emphasized the importance of keeping everyone safe as schools have reopened. “The way that we do that,” he said, “is by getting everyone vaccinated.”
Students are already required to get vaccinated for diseases like measles, chickenpox, mumps and rubella. "This is just another vaccine," Newsom said of the mandate.
If a student opts not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they "may remain enrolled in independent study but may not attend in-person instruction," said the governor. The vast majority of school districts are reporting that 95-100 percent of students are in-person, according to data released in September.
Parents Supporting Teachers, a Los Angeles-based parents advocacy group, expressed its support for the mandate, saying it could persuade vaccine-hesitant families.
“We have also heard of young people wanting the vaccine, but their resistant families are preventing them from doing so. This statewide mandate helps give those young people cover and might also help parents reconsider,” said said Jenna Schwartz and Nicolle Fefferman, co-founders of the group, in a statement.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said last month that the state was considering a statewide requirement after a handful of school districts, including Los Angeles Unified School District, announced mandates for eligible students.
"We're watching the experience in Los Angeles, understanding what it means for students and families alike, staff as well, and watching as other counties consider the same," Ghaly said.
All LAUSD students 12 and older have until Jan. 10, 2022, to be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical or other exemption. District employees have only until Oct. 15 to get vaccinated. LAUSD was one of the first in the United States to require vaccinations for employment.
“Our goal is to keep kids and teachers as safe as possible, and in the classroom,” school board Vice President Nick Melvoin said. “A medical and scientific consensus has emerged that the best way to protect everyone in our schools and communities is for all those who are eligible to get vaccinated. This policy is the best way to make that happen.”
The state, too, set an Oct. 15 deadline for all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated or show proof of weekly negative COVID-19 tests. Newsom announced the mandate on Aug. 11 “to give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning.”