California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that the state will require COVID-19 vaccines for all school children ages 12-17 once the FDA grants full approval, becoming the first state in the country to move forward on mandating vaccines for school children.
The mandate will not be implemented earlier than January, when the next school term starts, and could come as late as July 2022, depending on when the FDA gives full approval for vaccines for kids under 16 years old. But Newsom, a Democrat, encouraged local districts to move more quickly if they see fit.
"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 at a San Francisco school on Friday.
Americans 12 years old and up are already eligible for the Pfizer vaccine under an emergency use authorization, but the vaccine has been fully approved -- an FDA process that takes longer -- for those over 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 January 1 or July 1, whichever comes sooner," Newsom said in a press conference on Friday.
So far, no other state has required vaccines for school children, though private grade schools and universities around the country have done so.
The requirement puts the vaccine on par with 10 other vaccines that are already required to attend school.
California has so far vaccinated 63.5% of residents aged 12-17 with at least one dose, compared with 84% of all eligible residents.
"For 12 to 17, we're not where we need to be. And so we hope this encourages folks to get vaccinated," Newsom said.
At the same time as requirements go into place for 7th to 12th graders, the vaccine will also be required for all California school staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and custodians.
There will be exemptions allowed for medical reasons, personal beliefs and religious beliefs, as is the case with other vaccine requirements, Newsom said.
"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," Newsom said.