- California will become the first state to require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, except for those with medical, personal belief and/or religious exemptions, according to a Friday announcement from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
- The requirement will go into effect for the school term immediately following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's full approval of a vaccine for students ages 12 to 15, which could be as soon as this November. That means the requirement could take effect for students in grades 7-12 as early as Jan. 1.
- The state will also require vaccinations for all school staff. Newsom encouraged local districts to move forward with mandates "more expeditiously" if they see fit, and he anticipates other states to follow in California's footsteps.
Though Newsom's announcement marks the first state-level school vaccine mandate for COVID-19, a patchwork of districts across the nation have required vaccination against the virus for certain cohorts of students.
Currently, approximately 63.5% of California students ages 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Newsom. "But we have to do more," Newsom said in a press conference.
While the FDA is in the process of fully approving the vaccine for that age group, Newsom said the state will "work the logistics" of the requirement and work with districts, parents and educators to built trust and confidence in the vaccine.
COVID-19 vaccines currently have emergency use authorization for individuals ages 12 to 15, and authorization for ages 5 to 11 is still pending. The California mandate would apply to students in kindergarten through 6th grade once full approval is given to a vaccine for that age group.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already received full FDA approval for people ages 16 and older.
"We know there is no substitute for in-person instruction, but we need to do that on a consistent and sustainable basis, not an episodic basis," Newsom said in his announcement. "Schools have actually closed more frequently in those states that have not been more disciplined in terms of advancing a more scientific and data-driven approach to taming this disease and doing our best to get this pandemic behind us."
The requirement will add to a pre-existing list of 10 vaccine mandates already in place. "Our schools already require vaccines for measles, mumps and more. Why? Because vaccines work," Newsom tweeted shortly following the announcement.