SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Gavin Newsom says California will become the first state in the U.S. to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible schoolchildren who attend class in person.
The decision is pending full FDA approval for different age groups — as of Friday, that applied to the Pfizer shots for people 16 and older. The vaccine only has emergency authorization for kids 12 and older, and studies are ongoing regarding vaccinating kids aged 5 to 11.
The rules will take effect at the start of a student’s next school term when they fall into an eligible group, Newsom said. If it comes in January, then the mandate would take effect in July.
The new rules also eliminate an option for school staff to get tested regularly rather than submit proof of full vaccination.
The governor said the coronavirus vaccines would “add to a well-established list that currently includes 10 vaccinations” already required for students in the state at both public and private schools. Newsom also said there would be “well-established” exemptions for medical, personal or religious reasons, though he didn’t elaborate further.
Speaking from a middle school in San Francisco County, Newsom said the state has the lowest COVID-19 case rate in the U.S., and credited the state’s broad vaccination efforts for that figure. But the governor also said progress remained impacted by variants, like delta, and the “seasonality” of a virus that has at times seen cyclical spikes and then receding case rates.
“We’re all exhausted by this pandemic,” Newsom said. “And we’re all left wondering … ‘What lies in front of us?'”
“These requirements are working across the country – I think the evidence is rather overwhelming,” the governor said of other similar vaccine mandates. “They’re getting people vaccinated, ending this pandemic, getting our economy moving again, getting our kids educated, making us healthier and safer.”
In San Diego County, the region’s largest school district had already approved a vaccine mandate for eligible students and staff this week. It wasn’t immediately clear how the mandate might differ from the expectations that local schools were already preparing for.
“We applaud the governor for taking this action. We think that it is important to set a standard across the state,” San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera told FOX 5 Friday. “It certainly builds on the action not only our district has taken, but several other districts in California have already taken.”
In August, California became the first state in the country to require all teachers and staff in public and private schools around the state get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The state has also issued a school mask mandate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.