California will mandate COVID vaccines for K-12 students as each age group is fully approved to receive the vaccine, becoming the first state in the nation to require schoolchildren to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Governor Gavin Newsom made the announcement Friday morning during a press conference at Denman Middle School in San Francisco’s Balboa Park neighborhood. The COVID vaccine will be added to the list of required vaccines for students to attend in-person school.
At the briefing, Newsom noted positive trends in the state when it comes to beating back the pandemic, noting the state has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.
“California has the lowest case rate in the United States of America. We’ve maintained that status now for some time,” Newsom said. “Not surprisingly, that’s been driven primarily by one of the nation’s leading vaccination efforts.”
According to Newsom, California has administered over 50 million doses of vaccine, with 84% of eligible Californians receiving at least one dose.
Newsom also criticized the school reopening efforts of states that have banned mask mandates in schools such as Florida and Texas, noting that their COVID-19 positivity rates are higher and that schools have closed due to outbreaks.
“What you have seen across the country is that leaders assert the need and desire for the social and emotional benefits of in-person instruction, yet they’re not following the science,” the governor said. “Schools have actually closed more frequently in those states that have not been more disciplined in advancing a more scientific and data-driven approach to taming this disease and doing the best to get this pandemic behind us.”
California’s plan will have all elementary through high school students get the shots once the vaccine gains final approval from the U.S. government for different age groups.
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved 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, Newsom’s office said.
The state will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students in kindergarten through sixth grade only after the federal government has given final approval for anyone 5 to 11.
The announcement comes as infections in most of California have dropped markedly in the last month. But Newsom has been emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month following a campaign where he emphasized his commitment to vaccine mandates to end the pandemic.
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 Jan. 20.
Earlier this week, the San Diego Unified school board approved a mandate that staff and students age 16 and older be fully vaccinated by Dec. 20.
Newsom has made it a point of pride to be the first in the nation to issue a variety of pandemic-related school mandates.
In August, California became the first state in the U.S. 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.