By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ and ADAM BEAM
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California will become the first U.S. state to require COVID-19 vaccination for children to attend public and private schools in person in a term that could affect millions of students.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the coronavirus vaccine would be added to 10 other vaccines already required for schoolchildren, including those for measles and mumps.
Exemptions would be granted for medical reasons or because of religious or personal beliefs, but the exemption rules have yet to be written pending public comment.
Any student without an exemption who refuses to be vaccinated would be forced to do independent studies at home.
âWe want to end this pandemic. We’re all exhausted by it, âNewsom said at a San Francisco college press conference after visiting seventh-graders.
âThe vaccines work. That’s why California is the nation’s leader in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates, âNewsom said.
The mandate will be phased in as the U.S. government grants final vaccine approval for age groups. Currently, children between the ages of 12 and 15 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine under emergency clearance from the United States Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 are still in the testing phase.
Under California’s mandate, students in grades 7 to 12 are expected to be vaccinated in the semester following full vaccine approval by the United States for their age group, which likely means by July. next. It will take even longer for children in Kindergarten to Grade 6.
The mandate will ultimately affect more than 6.7 million students in public and private schools in the country’s most populous state. California already has a mask requirement for schoolchildren.
Until now, Newsom had left the decision on pupil vaccination mandates to local school districts, which has led to a variety of different orders. In Los Angeles, a vaccination mandate for eligible students is expected to go into effect in January.
The announcement drew a quick reaction from parents, including some who said they should have the final choice of whether or not to vaccinate their children.
âI’m furious. On so many levels,â said Jenny Monir, a mother of two in Los Angeles who said she believed Newsom’s tenure was motivated more by political reasons than public health. are just pawns in an elite game. “
Janet Meadows, whose children are in first grade and kindergarten, said she would consider teaching her children at home before immunizing them. The 41-year-old woman from Kern County said she was concerned about the health effects of not yet approved injections for children.
âI don’t think we know enough about the vaccine for our kids to get it,â she said. âThere are just a lot of unknowns. We don’t need to rush into this just yet.
Others praised Newsom’s announcement.
“I am delighted to see that we are trying to bring this health crisis under control,” said Andrew Patterson, father of an elementary school student in San Francisco. âAnd we have a lot of other vaccine requirements. I don’t see why this one would be any different.
California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country – 84% of people 12 and older have received at least one injection and 70% are fully vaccinated. But only 63.5% of children aged 12 to 17 have received a dose, and the state has a voice minority skeptical of both the vaccine and the government’s assurances about its safety.
Newsom has been one of the most aggressive governors on coronavirus restrictions, issuing the first statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020, soon followed by 41 more states. More recently, Newsom asked California’s estimated 2.2 million healthcare workers and most state workers to get vaccinated to keep their jobs.
The governor was emboldened after easily defeating a recall effort last month fueled by anger over his handling of the pandemic. He says he interpreted his landslide victory as an endorsement of his vaccine policies.
However, Newsom did not support all vaccination mandates. He recently opposed a requirement for prison guards imposed by a federal judge. Critics used the example to say that Newsom is motivated more by politics than science, noting that the correctional officers union donated to its campaign to defeat the recall.
“California kids made the mistake of not donating millions to his campaigns,” Republican Congressman Kevin Kiley tweeted Friday. Kiley was among 46 candidates who ran for governor in the recall election.
Newsom’s announcement comes as COVID-19 infections across much of California have declined significantly. The statewide positivity rate for the past week was 2.8%, and the average number of daily cases was around 6,355, about half of what it was when the last increase peaked in mid-August. Hospitalizations have fallen by 40%.
In Los Angeles County – the country’s largest, with more than 10 million people – only 1.7% of people tested for the virus have it, and daily infections have halved over the past month , when most of the children have returned to school.
California’s largest teacher unions support the immunization mandate, as does the California Association of School Boards.
Associated Press reporters Jocelyn Gecker and Haven Daley in San Francisco, Amy Taxin in Orange County, and Terry Chea contributed.