California has announced the nation’s first Covid-19 vaccination mandate for schoolchildren, a plan that will have all elementary through high school students get the shots once the vaccine gains final approval from the US government for different age groups.
The government has fully approved the Covid vaccine for those 16 and over but only granted an emergency authorization for anyone 12 to 15. Once federal regulators fully approve the vaccine for that group, the state will require students in seventh through 12th grades to get vaccinated in both public and private schools, the governor Gavin Newsom’s office said on Friday.
The state will require the vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grade only after the federal government has given final approval for anyone 5 to 11.
“Our schools already require vaccines for measles, mumps and more. Why? Because vaccines work,” the governor said in a tweet. “This is about keeping our kids safe & healthy.”
California currently has the lowest Covid case rate in the country, although some regions, particularly those where resistance to vaccines and public health mandates remains high, are continuing to see a troubling surge in hospitalizations. Newsom, emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month, has emphasized his commitment to vaccine mandates to end the pandemic.
Los Angeles county has already mandated vaccines for all students 12 and over. In the nation’s largest school district, daily infections are down by half in the last month, when most kids went back to school.
“These numbers are amazingly low given that 3,000-plus schools are now open countywide,” said Barbara Ferrer, county health director, on Thursday.
The state’s vaccine mandate would take effect the semester after the federal government grants final approval. If it comes in January, then the mandate would take effect in July.
Students would be granted religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would apply those exemptions have not been written yet. Any student who refuses to take the vaccine would be forced to complete an independent study course at home.
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.
Los Angeles and Oakland Unified have mandated all students over 12 to be vaccinated, but Oakland’s order has not set a deadline for when students must comply. LA set a deadline of 20 January. Earlier this week, the San Diego Unified school board approved a mandate that staff and students ages 16 and older be fully vaccinated by 20 December.
In August, California became the first state in the US to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid-19 testing. Newsom also issued a school mask mandate earlier in the summer for indoor classes that applies to all teachers and students.
The Associated Press contributed reporting