SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — All eligible students at California schools will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for in-person instruction, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday.
Newsom said the state will implement the mandate once the FDA fully approves the vaccine for school age groups, allowing time for schools to prepare for the mandate. That means the mandate could go into effect for certain approved ages as early as January or as late as July, he added.
Medical, religious, and personal belief exemptions will be established with current guidelines, Newsom said.
"We know there's no substitute for in-person instruction," Newsom said.
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Newsom said the rollout of the mandate would be done in two phases. The first phase would mandate the vaccine for eligible students in grades 7-12, once the FDA approves a vaccine for ages 12 and up, and the second phase would be for kindergarten through grade 6, for ages 5-11 once that vaccine age group is approved.
The mandate will take effect at the start of the school term following that FDA approval of the grade span, defined as either Jan. 1, 2022, or July 1, 2022, whichever comes first. The state expects the requirement for grades 7-12 to start July 2022, based on current information.
The governor added that the state anticipates school staff following a similar requirement for the vaccine at the same time as the first phase rollout.
"The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom," said Newsom.
California already requires statewide face covering use in schools. Currently, school staff are required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo regular testing.
Newsom added that the state will not stop school districts from moving forward sooner. This week, San Diego Unified School District passed its own vaccine mandate for students 16 and older and school staff, following a similar policy passed by Los Angeles Unified School District.
According to Newsom, the COVID-19 vaccine requirement is the 11th vaccination on the list of vaccines already required for children to attend school.
The announcement comes one day after the state's deadline for health care workers to be fully vaccinated went into effect.
More than 84% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state Department of Public Health.
"California has administered over 50 million doses of the vaccine ... that said, we're all exhausted by this pandemic," Newsom said. "While there continues to be encouraging signs ... at the back end, there's still a struggle to get where we need to go."
Newsom added Friday that the state needs to prepare for the winter months when flu season hits its height.
A spokesperson for the San Diego County Office of Education told ABC 10News , “The governor has issued a number of executive orders and initiatives throughout the pandemic. Each time, we have sifted through the details to see what it means for our schools. We’ll analyze this new information and work to comply accordingly.”
The San Diego County Medical Society sent ABC 10News the following statement in response to the mandate.
The San Diego County Medical Society supports Governor Newsom’s vaccine mandate for school students. While children are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID, some do; and while most recover some go on to have long-term symptoms which can be debilitating. While avoiding COVID in children and staff themselves is important enough; family members who get sick or need to care for ill children miss work and this further impacts the health and security of families.
The American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools recommends vaccination for all eligible individuals. Vaccination will keep kids, teachers, and their families healthy and thriving.