The Slatest

California Becomes First State to Impose COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Schoolchildren

California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with 7th grade students at James Denman Middle School on October 1, 2021 in San Francisco, California.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with 7th grade students at James Denman Middle School on October 1, 2021 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California is set to impose the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all schoolchildren, and it could be in effect for everyone as early as next fall. Gov. Gavin Newsom said all students would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend public and private schools in California, although only after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval for the corresponding age groups. Newsom’s announcement is likely to lead other states to follow suit. “We have to do more,” Newsom said at a news conference. “We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it.”

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Under the plan unveiled by Newsom, California will be adding the Covid-19 vaccine to a list of immunizations that are required of the almost seven million students to attend school, including measles and mumps. In addition to medical exemptions as allowed for the 10 other required immunizations, California will also consider religious and personal beliefs to not get the Covid-19 shot.

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The mandate will be rolled out in stages, first affecting those between seventh and 12th grades and then kindergarten through sixth grades. For now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Is fully approved only for those 16 and older. It is available for children aged 12 to 15 under emergency use authorization and full approval is expected within months. If approval is granted before the end of the year, the requirement for students 12 and older could come into effect as early as January 2022. Vaccines for children 5 to 11 are still being tested and Pfizer is expected to ask the FDA to grant emergency approval for that age group next week.

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The reason why more exemptions would be allowed for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is that the mandate would be imposed through regulation rather than law. But lawmakers in the state could push legislation next year to get rid of exemptions and Newsom said he would “work with them to strengthen” the vaccine requirement. In a very predictable development, Democratic state lawmakers praised the mandate while Republicans criticized Newsom for what they characterized as overreach. Students who don’t submit a waiver for medical, personal or religious reasons would only be allowed to enroll in online school, attend independent-study programs or receive home-schooling.

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