California delays student COVID-19 vaccine mandate

DeMarcus Hicks, a recent graduate of nursing school who is working as a contractor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gives a person a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, on Dec. 20, 2021 in Federal Way, Wash. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

California will delay its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for schoolchildren until at least July 2023, state health officials announced Thursday.

The state will wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give full approval for the vaccines for those in 7th-12th grade, the California Department of Public Health said.

“To ensure sufficient time for successful implementation of new vaccine requirements, California will not initiate the regulatory process for a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for the 2022-2023 school year,” the department said. “As such, any vaccine requirements would not take effect until after full FDA approval and no sooner than July 1, 2023.”

Although the FDA has given emergency authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 and older, it has not yet given a final approval to those under 16 years old.

California was the first state to announce last year that it would require all school-aged kids to get the vaccine.

The state’s response to conditions in schools has adapted to the dynamic challenges of the pandemic, based on science, the Public Health Department said.

“CDPH strongly encourages all eligible Californians, including children, to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” department Director Tomás J. Aragón said. “We continue to ensure that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by the best science and data available. Under the Governor’s SMARTER plan, California is making informed decisions on how to further protect students and staff, to keep children safely in classrooms.”

While nearly 75% of California’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, rates for children ages 17 and under are much lower, the Associated Press reported. Just under 34% of children between the ages of 5-11 have been vaccinated, while just over 66.4% of children ages 12-17 have gotten it, state data shows.

The state’s Public Health Department encourages residents to vaccinate their children and emphasized that vaccines are the most powerful weapon against hospitalization and serious illness due to COVID-19. 

Vaccines such as those for the measles, mumps and rubella are already required for schoolchildren, pursuant to California’s Health and Safety Code. 

Upon full approval by the FDA, the state’s public health department said it will consider the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, prior to implementing a school vaccine requirement.