California just became the first state in the nation to make getting a COVID vaccine a requirement for all students ages 12 and up in both public and private schools, and when that requirement takes effect next year, all faculty, staff, bus drivers, and everyone who works with students will have to be vaccinated as well.
Governor Gavin Newsom made the announcement from Denman Middle School in San Francisco — and it was carried live on CNN — saying that the speed of vaccinations in the state has not been good enough among schoolkids aged 12 to 17.
"We're all exhausted by this pandemic," Newsom said. "We're exhausted by the seasonality of it, were exhausted by these variants, mutations, and we're all left wondering as we now move through the summer surge. And while there continues to be encouraging signs … there's still a struggle to get to where we need to go. And that means we need to do more and we need to do better to reach out and to make available more opportunities for people to get vaccinated."
As of Friday, 63% of California students ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated.
As KTVU reports, the state isn't announcing a timeline yet for the vaccine mandate for students, only that one is coming, likely in 2022. The state will wait until full FDA approval is granted for one or more vaccines for children 12 and up, which may come as soon as January, but may not come until next July.
Newsom added that other school districts are welcome to speed up the process of instituting a mandate, as several in the Bay Area have, including Oakland Unified and more recently West Contra Costa Unified.
"We have no trepidation, no well, no hesitancy in encouraging local districts to move forward more expeditiously," Newsom said.
The new state mandate will also extend to faculty, staff, cafeteria workers, para professionals, bus drivers, and any other school campus employees when the student mandate takes effect. Currently, school faculty and staff need to either be vaccinated or show a negative COVID test weekly, but the testing option will go away.
Going forward, students who turn 12 will be given a "reasonable amount of time" to get fully vaccinated, but no exact timeline has been given for that.
"This is just another vaccine," Newsom said, comparing the COVID vaccines to ones that have long been required statewide for all schoolchildren for measles, mumps, and rubella.
Newsom said that independent study, but no in-person instruction, would be possible for unvaccinated students. And exceptions would be made for religious and health reasons.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the nation, issued a mandate that all students aged 12 to 17 must be fully vaccinated by December 19 — and students wishing to take part in extracurricular activities must have their first shot by Monday, October 3. The LA Times reported this week that the district is struggling to meet that deadline, and another deadline looms for all school district employees to be fully vaccinated by October 15 or risk losing their jobs.