California pushes first U.S. vaccine mandate for schoolchildren


San Francisco – California will enact the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Friday, with the goal of having all students in grades 7 through 12 immunized by next fall an after the injections have obtained final federal approval for all ages 12 and up.

The Democratic governor has said he expects the US government to give that final approval sometime next year, exceeding the emergency clearance given now for 12 to 15 years.

He said the state will require students in kindergarten to grade six to be vaccinated once final federal approval is given for children ages 5 to 11.

“We need to do more,” Newsom said at a San Francisco college press conference after visiting seventh-graders. “We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted. “

A handful of school districts have imposed their own vaccination mandates, including five in California. But other states have resisted the imposition of pandemic rules on schools, including a new law in Kentucky that struck down a statewide mask mandate.

Newsom has been one of the most aggressive governors on coronavirus restrictions, issuing the first statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020 and more recently requiring that around 2.2 million California healthcare workers get vaccinated to keep their jobs.

The governor appears to have been 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 has not approved all vaccination warrants, recently opposing a similar 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 giving millions to his campaigns,” Republican Congressman Kevin Kiley, who ran to replace Newsom in the recall election, tweeted Friday.

About 84% of people 12 and older in California have received at least one dose of the vaccine, one of the highest rates in the country. But Newsom said on Friday that only 63.5% of people between the ages of 12 and 17 received at least one dose.

His announcement comes as COVID-19 infections across much of California have declined significantly over the past month.

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.

“These numbers are incredibly low given that more than 3,000 schools are now open across the county,” county health director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday, noting that although the number of outbreaks in schools has Slightly increased in recent weeks, the total number is small and largely linked to youth sports.

California’s largest teachers’ unions supported the directive, as did the California Association of School Boards. Dr. Peter N. Bretah, president of the California Medical Association, said the group “strongly supports” the mandate of vaccination for students.

“This is not a new idea. We already need vaccines against several known deadly diseases before students can enroll in schools,” Bretan said. “The Newsom administration is simply extending public health protections existing to cover this new disease, which has caused so much pain and suffering in our State, our nation and the entire world over the past 18 months. “

Still, the requirement is sure to anger some vaccine-skeptical parents. Last month, more than a thousand people gathered on the California Capitol to oppose vaccination warrants.

Students would benefit from religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would enforce them have yet to be written. Any student who refused to be vaccinated would be forced to take an independent home study course.

Until now, Newsom had left the decision on student immunization mandates to local school districts, which has led to a variety of different orders in some of the state’s larger districts. In Los Angeles, a mandate to vaccinate eligible students is expected to go into effect in January for the nation’s second-largest school district.

Newsom’s plan does not replace plans for those districts, saying school districts can “speed up” requirements.

Newsom has made a point of being the first in the country to issue a variety of academic warrants related to the pandemic.

In August, California became the first state to require all teachers and staff in public and private schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to be vaccinated or have weekly COVID-19 tests. Newsom also issued a school mask warrant earlier in the summer for classroom lessons that applies to all teachers and students.

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