Dem Gov. Newsom imposes first-in-nation vaccine mandate for schoolchildren

California will COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.

The statewide mandate, which is set to apply to public and private school students in kindergarten through 12th grade, is the first of its kind in the nation. It will not take effect immediately, but will rather be phased in after the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 16.

“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,” Newsom said. “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,” he added.

As WCVB-TV reported, the vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for children ages 16 and up, but has only received emergency-use authorization for 12-to-15-year-olds. The plan, according to Newsom, is to mandate the vaccine for seventh-through-12th-graders once it receives full approval for the 12-to-15 age group.

The mandate will similarly be phased in for kindergarten-through-6th-graders, though no vaccine is currently widely available for children under the age of 12, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A news release from Newsom’s office describes how the process will work in more detail.

“Upon full FDA approval of age groups within a grade span, [the California Department of Public Health] will consider the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians prior to implementing a requirement,” the release said.

“Following existing statute, full approval of ages 12+ corresponds to grades 7-12, and full approval of ages 5-11 corresponds to grades K-6. 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,” it added.

“The requirement will take effect at the start of the term following full approval of that grade span, to be defined as January 1st or July 1st, whichever comes first. Based on current information, the requirement is expected to apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, 2022,” the release proclaimed. “However, local health jurisdictions and local education agencies are encouraged to implement requirements ahead of a statewide requirement based on their local circumstances.”

At a news conference, Newsom claimed the state is not where it needs to be in terms of keeping the pandemic contained.

“And that means we need to do more, and we need to do better,” he said.

But many critics say mandating vaccines for children is not the way.

“I just think it’s a parent’s decision, you know. Period,” Fabio Zamora, whose child is in eighth grade at Edna Brewer Middle School, told The Associated Press. “The government in no shape or form should be having mandates like that. I don’t care for that. I’m a veteran. I served this country, and I fought for those rights.”

The mandate will allow students to opt out of getting the vaccine for medical or religious reasons, though it’s not entirely clear how the exemptions will work.