California to require eligible students in public, private schools be vaccinated against COVID-19

SAN FRANCISCO -- California will soon require all students in both public and private schools to get the COVID-19 vaccine once the shot is fully authorized by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for different age groups.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new emergency order on Friday while visiting a middle school in San Francisco. The COVID-19 vaccine will now join a list of 10 other vaccinations required for children to attend school in the state.

The governor said the state will issue the mandate in the next school term following the FDA's approval, the earliest being Jan. 1, 2022 and the latest being July 1, 2022.

The government has fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and over but only granted an emergency authorization for anyone 12 to 15. Once federal regulators fully approve it for that group, the state will require students in seventh through 12th grades to get vaccinated.

California will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grades after it gets final federal approval for children 5 to 11.

"We have to do more," Newsom said. "We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it."

At that same time, staff members at all state schools will also need to be fully vaccinated. The state issued a mandate in August for teachers and school staff members, but now it has eliminated the option to submit to regular COVID-19 testing in place of getting the vaccine.

"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.

Students would be granted religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would apply them have not been written yet. Any student who refuses to take the vaccine would be forced to complete an independent study course at home.

It's not the first vaccine mandate Newsom has issued within the state, but it is his first major COVID-19 prevention announcement since winning the gubernatorial recall election a few weeks ago.

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California continues to have the lowest COVID case rate in the country. In addition to vaccine mandates issued for other sectors, including health care workers and state employees, California has kept its masking rules for public indoor places, including schools.

Roughly 84% of everyone 12 and over in California has received at least one dose of the vaccine, one of the highest rates in the country. But Newsom said Friday that just 63.5% of people between 12 and 17 have received at least one dose.

California's largest teachers unions supported the directive, as did the California Association of School Boards. Dr. Peter N. Bretah, president of the California Medical Association, said the group "strongly supports" the vaccine mandate for students.

"This is not a new idea. We already require vaccines against several known deadly diseases before students can enroll in schools," Bretan said. "The Newsom administration is simply extending existing public health protections to cover this new disease, which has caused so much pain and suffering across our state, our nation and the entire globe over the last 18 months."

Yet the requirement is sure to anger some parents who are skeptical of the vaccines. Last month, more than a thousand people gathered at the California Capitol to oppose vaccine mandates.

Until now, Newsom had left the decision on student vaccine mandates to local school districts, leading to a variety of different orders across some of the state's largest districts. In Los Angeles, a vaccine mandate for eligible students is set to take effect in January for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest school district.

Newsom's plan does not override those districts' plans, saying school districts can "accelerate" the requirements.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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