Local officials, groups sound off on state’s vaccine mandate for schoolchildren

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego County officials and groups are reacting to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s move to make California the first state in the U.S. to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible schoolchildren who attend class in person.

The decision, which is pending full FDA approval for different age groups, applies to people 16 and older as of Friday. The vaccine only has emergency authorization for kids 12 and older, and studies are ongoing regarding vaccinating kids aged 5 to 11.

Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Nathan Fletcher said in a statement that he appreciated the governor’s “bold action” to require the COVID-19 vaccination for students next year.

“Vaccines protect people from viruses and disease,” he said. “Children are already required to receive vaccinations before beginning school and I agree the COVID-19 vaccine should be added to that list.”

Earlier this week, the San Diego Unified School District voted Tuesday that eligible students and staff would be required to be vaccinated. Richard Barrera, the board’s president, applauded the governor for “taking this action.”

“We think that it is important to set a standard across the state…that all students public and private schools will be required to receive the vaccination at the point they’re eligible and it certainly builds on the action not only our district has taken, but several other districts in CA have already taken,” Barrera said in a statement.

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.

Meanwhile, Let Them Breathe, an advocacy group that promotes mask choice and looks to end mask mandates for the youth, released a statement disagreeing with Newsom’s stance.

“Even once this vaccine receives FDA approval it will not have gone through long-term studies,” said Sharon McKeeman, founder of the movement. “Families need to be able to make these personal medical decisions themselves, and there is no reason to mandate a vaccine for children who are at low risk from serious complications from the virus. If the vaccine works then those eligible have the choice to protect themselves in that way, and student vaccination status does not affect them.”

While Let Them Choose, an offshoot of the mask choice advocacy initiative Let Them Breathe, says they disagree with Governor Newsom’s stance, “he did acknowledge the fact that new vaccines can only be mandated if personal belief exemptions are made available.”

“This validates the legal concerns we have expressed against SDUSD’s statements that they will not allow for personal belief exemptions,” the group said.

Let Them Breathe added they are planning their next steps in legal action.

“It is extremely unfortunate that we have to continue to take the State to court to protect our children,” the group’s leader said. “Students deserve COVID19 vaccine choice, and they have a protected right to an in-person education.”

The Associated Press and FOX 5’s Matt Meyer contributed to this report.

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