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Gov. Newsom mandates vaccines for middle school students and older

At a school in San Francisco, Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced plans to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations required to attend school in-person when the vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for middle and high school grades, making California the first state in the nation to announce such a measure.

Following the other first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination measures, Newsom announced the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for in-person school attendance — just like vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and more.

“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,” said Newsom. “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. Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The requirement is expected to apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, 2022. However, local health jurisdictions and local education agencies are encouraged to implement requirements ahead of a statewide requirement based on their local circumstances.

Ceres Unified School District Communications Specialist Beth Jimenez said: “It’s too early to talk specifics at this point given that FDA approval is still pending. We just don’t have enough information yet. We don’t know the time frame. We don’t know what exemptions may look like. It’s so preliminary right now. We’re monitoring the situation as it unfolds.”

She added: “Our response throughout the pandemic has been to follow the guidance of public health experts. We are also working with our community to provide convenient access to vaccines.”

Students 12 years old and up are already eligible for the Pfizer vaccine under an emergency use authorization, but it isn’t fully approved, and the FDA process takes longer for those under 16.

“Once the FDA approves the vaccination, in different cohorts starting with 12 and above, grade 7 to 12, we will begin to apply that requirement in the next term, either Jan. 1 or July 1, whichever comes sooner,” said Newsom.

Students aren’t the only ones mandated to get vaccinated. The vaccine will also be required for all California school staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and custodians.

Newsom said there will exemptions for medical conditions and religious beliefs.

“We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it. And the purpose of this is to continue to lead in that space,” he said.

The vast majority of California school districts have reported that over 95% of students have returned to in-person instruction this school year. California is leading national trends in preventing school closures and keeping kids in classrooms, accounting for only 14 out of over 2,000 school closures nationwide, or roughly 0.7% – despite the fact that California educates an estimated 12% of the nation’s public school students.

Students who are under the age of full approval, but within the grade span, will be required to be vaccinated once they reach the age of full approval (with a reasonable period of time to receive both doses), consistent with existing procedures for other vaccines. The requirement will take effect at the start of the term following full approval of that grade span, to be defined as Jan. 1 or July 1, whichever comes first.

“I believe we will be the first state in America to move forward with this mandate and requirement but I do not believe, by any stretch of the imagination, we will be the last state,” Newsom said during a press conference on Friday. “For 12 to 17, we’re not where we need to be. And so, we hope this encourages folks to get vaccinated.”

Courier staff writer Dale Butler contributed to this report.