In another aggressive effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure schools remain open, Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced a vaccine mandate for students ages 12 and older, making California the first state in the nation to require students to be fully vaccinated for in-person instruction.
The mandate would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations, which includes mumps, measles and rubella. Newsom issued this order in the aftermath of similar mandates from the state's largest districts, Los Angeles Unified and San Diego Unified.
"We intend to do that once the FDA has fully approved the vaccine which will give us time to work with districts, give us time to work with parents and educators to build more trust and confidence," Newsom said.
Parents still have some time to get their students vaccinated. The state mandate will go into effect only once the federal Food and Drug Administration fully approves vaccines for those 12 and older. Upon FDA approval, students will have until the start of the following academic term, either January 1st or July 1st, to be fully vaccinated.
This mandate, however, doesn't just put the responsibility on students. All public school employees will be required to be vaccinated as soon as the mandate takes effect for students. Until now, teachers and staff were either required to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing for COVID-19; negative tests will no longer suffice.
The state expects that based on current FDA timelines, students grades 7-12 will be required to be vaccinated by July 1, 2022.
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 they'll be given a "reasonable period of time to receive both doses."
The California Department of Public Health will develop the rules for personal and religious exemptions following a public comment period. Details for that process have not yet been released.
The mandate comes in the aftermath of Newsom's overwhelming victory in September's recall election, during which the governor leaned into mask and vaccine mandates.
A survey released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most families nationwide are willing to vaccinate their children.
California students who do not get fully vaccinated will be required to enroll in independent study, the only alternative to in-person instruction being offered this year.
Local officials react
Following news of the state mandate, Weekly editor Jeremy Walsh reached out to the Pleasanton Unified School District to see how Superintendent David Haglund reacted to Newsom's announcement.
"We welcome the state's vaccine mandates, and support any measure based on data and science that further protects the safety and health of our students, staff and community," Haglund said in a written statement Tuesday.
"We are grateful that 97.3% of Pleasanton students ages 12-17 have received one dose of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine and 82.9% are fully vaccinated here in Pleasanton. We hope to see similar numbers as the vaccines receive full approval for administering to students ages 5-11," he added.
The percentages Haglund provided reflect the entire Pleasanton community, not strictly those youth enrolled in PUSD, as the Alameda County Public Health Department only reports the data for an entire city or town, according to district officials.
Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. K. Monroe also issued a written statement in support of Newsom's student vaccination mandate.
"When it comes to the safety of students and staff, vaccines are clearly the path forward. The safety measures we already have in place in schools across the county, including wearing masks, testing, and ventilation have all proven to be critical layers of protection, and are part of comprehensive safety efforts that include vaccines for students and staff. We appreciate that the state is prepared to invest in making that a priority," Monroe stated, adding:
"The future effective date of Governor Newsom's plan to mandate vaccines is also helpful for our local educational agencies to have time to plan and provides a long onramp to implementation. Currently, our school and districts are grappling with staffing shortages, implementation of COVID protocols, and declining enrollment, critical issues that need to be addressed with full attention and priority.
"At the County Office of Education, we continue to support our schools and districts, who have shown numerous times throughout this pandemic that they will step up and do the right thing in support of students and families."