OLGA RODRIGUEZ and ADAM BEAM / Associated Press
California will enact the country’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for school children, Governor Gavin Newsom said Friday, with a goal to vaccinate all seventh through twelfth grade students by next fall, once the shots get final federal approval for all 12 and get more.
The Democratic governor said he expected the US government to give that final approval sometime next year, lifting off the emergency clearances now given to those 12 to 15 year olds.
He said the state will require kindergarten through sixth grade students to receive the vaccine once final federal approval is in place for children ages 5-11.
“We have to do more,” Newsom said during a press conference at a San Francisco middle school after visiting seventh graders. “We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it. “
A handful of school districts have their own immunization mandates, including five in California. But other states have resisted imposing pandemic rules on schools, including a new law in Kentucky that removes a nationwide mask mandate.
Newsom was one of the most aggressive governors on coronavirus restrictions, issuing the first statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020 and recently obliging California’s 2.2 million health care workers to get vaccinated to keep their jobs to keep.
The governor appears to have been encouraged after easily defeating a recall last month fueled by anger over his handling of the pandemic. He says he interpreted his landslide victory as confirmation of his vaccination policy.
Newsom has not endorsed all vaccine mandates, however, and recently opposed a similar requirement for prison guards imposed by a federal judge. Critics used this example to say that Newsom is more political than science driven, noting that the correctional officers union had donated to its campaign to prevent the recall.
“California kids made the mistake of not donating millions to their campaigns,” tweeted Republican MP Kevin Kiley, who ran for Newsom in the recall election, on Friday.
About 84% of people 12 years and older in California have received at least one dose of the vaccine, one of the highest rates in the country. But Newsom said Friday that only 63.5% of people between the ages of 12 and 17 received at least one dose.
His announcement comes as COVID-19 infections have decreased significantly in most parts of California over the past month.
In Los Angeles County – the largest county in the country, populating more than 10 million people – only 1.7% of people tested for the virus have it, and daily infections have been around for the last month when most kids went back to school decreased by half.
“Those numbers are astonishingly low with over 3,000 schools now open across the country,” County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday, noting that while the number of school outbreaks has increased slightly in recent weeks, the overall number has increased is low and largely related to youth sport.
California’s largest teacher unions supported the policy, as did the California Association of School Boards. Dr. Peter N. Bretah, president of the California Medical Association, said the group “strongly” supports the student vaccination mandate.
“This is not a new idea. We already need vaccines against several known deadly diseases before students can enroll in schools, ”Bretan said. “The Newsom administration is merely expanding existing public health protections to cover this new disease that has caused so much pain and suffering in our state, nation, and around the world over the past 18 months.”
Still, the requirement is sure to upset some parents who are skeptical of the vaccines. In the past month, more than a thousand people gathered in the California Capitol to oppose vaccine mandates.
Students would be granted religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would apply them had not yet been written. Anyone who refuses the vaccination must complete an independent study at home.
Previously, Newsom had left the decision on vaccination mandates for students to the local school districts, resulting in a multitude of different orders in some of the largest counties in the state. In Los Angeles, a vaccination mandate for eligible students for the second largest school district in the country is due to go into effect in January.
Newsom’s plan does not override these districts’ plans as school districts can “accelerate” the requirements.
Newsom is proud to be the first in the country to issue a wide variety of pandemic-related school mandates.
In August, California became the first state to require all teachers and staff in public and private K-12 schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 tests. Newsom also issued a school mask mandate for indoor classes earlier this summer that applies to all teachers and students.