California will require COVID vaccines for all schoolchildren next year

California will mandate Covid-19 vaccines for children attending school once the shots are federally approved for their age groups, becoming the first state to require the inoculations in classrooms. 

The mandate, which follows similar actions by several school districts in the most-populous U.S. state, will be implemented in phases for grades 7 to 12 and kindergarten to sixth grade. California anticipates that the requirement will kick in for the older students on July 1, 2022.

Governor Gavin Newsom has been focused on expanding vaccinations in California, which has seen its Covid infection rate fall to among the lowest in the nation. Currently, all public workers and school employees must be inoculated or submit to weekly tests—and that standard will switch to a vaccine mandate for educational staff once the first requirement for students applies.

While announcing the order Friday, the Democratic leader pointed to growing mandates at workplaces as a model for helping to encourage vaccinations and stem outbreaks. 

“These requirements are working, across the country,” Newsom said during a briefing at a San Francisco school. “They’re getting people vaccinated, they’re actually ending this pandemic, they’re getting our economy moving again, they’re getting our kids educated, they’re making us healthier and safer.”

The timing is dependent on full Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccines for kids. Right now, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s shot is approved on an emergency-use basis for ages 12 through 15 and fully approved for people 16 and older. The companies said this week that they have submitted initial data to regulators about the use in children ages 5 to 11, with plans to make a formal request for emergency authorization in coming weeks.

Almost 64% of Californians aged 12 through 17 have received at least one dose, Newsom said. He said he aims to treat the vaccine like the 10 others required of California students, such as shots for the mumps and measles.

“Every parent has had this conversation since they brought their kids into school, public or private — they have to be vaccinated,” Newsom said. “This is just another vaccine, and there are well-established requirements and consequences.”

Like other vaccines, the Covid shot will be subject to exemptions based on medical conditions and religious and personal beliefs. Unvaccinated students can remain in independent study but not attend school in person. Districts also may be allowed to set their own requirements, potentially putting in place more aggressive timelines than the state’s.

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