Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced Friday that the state plans to add the coronavirus vaccine to other vaccinations required to attend school, such as measles and mumps, starting as early as next fall.
The vaccine mandate, for public and private schools, will be phased in by grade span — seventh through 12th grades, and then kindergarten through sixth — after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to the corresponding age group. Newsom said that he anticipates the requirement would apply to grades seventh and up starting in July 2022.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently only fully approved for people 16 and older; the vaccine remains available for children ages 12 to 15 under emergency use authorization. Newsom said that more than 63% of Californians aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Widespread inoculation will be critical to keeping classrooms open, he noted.
“We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it,” the governor, who has four small children, said.
Newsom’s announcement would make California the first state to mandate the COVID vaccine for in-person school attendance.
Independent study will be offered for unvaccinated students, he said, and rules for students with medical and other exemptions will be determined through a public rule-making process. California has nearly 7 million students in public and private schools.
Several of the state’s largest school districts have already voted to mandate vaccinations in some form for hundreds of thousands of students. Last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest in the nation — became the first major school district in the country to announce a vaccine mandate for children 12 and older who attend school in person, which will be broadly effective by January.
School districts in Culver City and Piedmont have made similar announcements. The school board in Oakland voted last month to require students aged 12 or older to be vaccinated, though some details — including the timing — have yet to be ironed out. In San Diego, students over 16 must be vaccinated by late December to attend in-person classes, with mandates contingent on vaccine clearance in the works for younger age groups.
California requires that K-12 students, faculty and staff wear face masks at school. The state also announced vaccine rules for teachers and other school staff in August. Other states and districts across the country, including Washington state, New York City and Oregon, have done so, too.
Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their vaccine had been shown to be safe and highly effective in young children aged 5 to 11 years, setting the stage for emergency use authorization of the vaccine for younger children, possibly as soon as the end of October.
Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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