On October 1, 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students ages 12 and older. This makes California the first state in the nation to require students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for in-person instruction.
Similar mandates from the state's largest districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified, have previously been put in place.
Currently, the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has full approval from the FDA to be administered to individuals 16 or older, and individuals ages 12 to 15 are able to receive the Pfizer vaccine under emergency authorization. Full FDA approval for administering the Pfizer vaccine to individuals 12 to 15 is expected to follow by November.
The new state mandate would take effect for grades 7 through 12 the semester following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's full approval of the vaccine for children ages 12 and older, either January 1, 2022 or July 1, 2022.
Once in effect, students will not be allowed to attend classes in-person on campus without being vaccinated. Medical and religious exemptions would be available. Under this new mandate, unvaccinated students will have the option of enrolling in a fully online school, attending independent-study programs offered by school districts, or be homeschooled.
Students who are currently too young to get the vaccine will be required to receive their doses as soon as they reach the required age but will be given a “reasonable period of time to receive both doses.”
Pfizer is expected to apply for authorization shortly for vaccines for children 5 to 11, citing evidence from trials indicating that the shots are safe and effective for children in this age group. Emergency-use authorization for vaccines for children 5 to 11 is expected around Thanksgiving. These students, in kindergarten through sixth grade, would be phased in after the vaccine is formally approved for younger children.
Similar to other required vaccines, such as hepatitis B, tetanus, mumps, measles, polio and chickenpox, it will be up to schools and school districts to enforce the mandate. The governor said he is simply applying the same standard for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Until now, teachers and staff were either required to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing for COVID-19. However, under this mandate, negative tests will no longer suffice. All public school employees will be required to be vaccinated as soon as the mandate takes effect for students.
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