California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced a first-in-the-nation mandate that will require all eligible students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to go to school in person once vaccines get full federal approval.
The mandate could take effect early next year and will be phased in by grade span.
“We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it,” Newsom said during a briefing at a San Francisco County middle school.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fully approved a COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 and older, but has so far only given emergency authorization for children aged 12 to 15.
Students will be required to get vaccinated during the school term directly after the FDA gives full approval for a specific age group — ages 12 and older in grades 7-12, and ages 5-11 in K-6.
Newsom said that could happen either January 1 or July 1, whichever comes first. But based on current projections, California officials said they anticipate the requirement would likely begin for the older students in July.
California’s vaccine requirement will apply to children at both public and private schools. Once it takes effect, unvaccinated students can remain enrolled in independent study, but won’t be able to attend in-person classes, state officials said.
“There’s still a struggle to get to where we need to go. And that means we need to do more, and we need to do better,” Newsom said.
The governor said the mandate will add the COVID-19 shot to the list of ten vaccines that children already have to get to go to school, like shots for the measles or mumps.
“In many ways, it’s the most predictable announcement throughout this pandemic,” Newsom said.
There will be exemptions for medical reasons and religious beliefs, according to the governor.
Waiting for the FDA’s approval will give the state time to work out logistics with school districts, Newsom said.
The mandate comes as vaccinations stall among younger residents. In California, 63.5% of residents aged 12 to 17 have gotten at least one vaccine dose, according to Newsom.
“We’re not where we need to be, and so we hope this encourages folks to get vaccinated,” he added.
Currently, California requires teachers and staff at public schools to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly coronavirus testing beginning Oct. 15. But until Friday, there was no statewide vaccine mandate announced for students.
Once the vaccine requirement takes effect for students, all school staff will also be required to get the shots— without having the option to instead submit to weekly testing.
California officials will create a statewide standard for the new vaccine mandate, but individual counties and schools may still choose to accelerate vaccine requirements, the governor’s office said.
There have been districts that have already announced student vaccine mandates.
At the nation’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, all students 12 and older will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend classes in person. The children are required to get their first dose no later than Nov. 21, and the second by Dec. 19.
LAUSD has also already been requiring all teachers and staff at to be fully vaccinated as a condition of continued employment.
The L.A. school employees have until Oct. 15 to comply with the vaccination rule. And while the majority are expected to comply, about 12,000 workers have not begun their immunization, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
The two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only one available to those 12 and older. Both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only authorized for use with people age 18 and over.
Pfizer’s shots may not be available to younger children until November.