MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION) California is now the first state in the nation to announce a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for public school students. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that the mandate won’t take effect until the vaccine has received full approval from the U.S. government for various grade levels.
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is only fully approved for those 16 and older. Emergency authorization has been granted for anyone 12 and older. Once final approval comes for those 12 and older, the state will mandate vaccines for students in seventh through 12th grade.
The mandate would take effect the semester after the approval, either January 1st, or July 1st. Newsom estimates that will come before July 2022.
"I want to get this behind us, get this economy moving again, make sure our kids never have to worry about getting a call saying they can’t go to school the next day because one of the kids or a staff member tested positive," Newsom said of the mandate.
The state will also require the vaccine for kindergarten through sixth grades once the vaccine receives final approval for anyone 5 and older.
"We intend to do that once the FDA has fully approved the vaccine, which will give us time to work with districts, give us time to work with parents and educators."
Parents will be able to claim some religious and medical exemptions. One parent we spoke to in Salinas said she is vaccinated, but she is concerned for her kids because of how new the vaccine is.
"I wouldn't do it because it's a new vaccine. I think adults can barely tolerate the reactions and I don't want to imagine how it would be for a child," said Yeraldine Lara, holding her young son.
The Governor's Office says there will be no testing alternative to the mandate. Students who are not vaccinated will be enrolled in independent study, but how that will work is still to be figured out.
"The distance learning model worked for some parents and students. And it didn't work for many students and parents," said Dr. Deneen Guss, Monterey County Superintendent of Schools. "I'm not sure yet if that will continue to be in an independent study model or if another model will be developed, or if there will be any flexibility around what that learning from home model will look like."
Dr. Guss said the county is preparing to host vaccine clinics and webinars for parents to help discourage any vaccine misinformation.
"We're hoping to host vaccine clinics on school sites as well as at the local hospitals and local pharmacies. We think that if we make it more available and more accessible by putting those vaccine clinics on school sites, we will have greater participation."
Here's a look at current vaccination numbers for school-aged children across the Central Coast.
- Monterey County: 72% aged 12-17 with at least 1 dose
- Santa Cruz County: 74.9% aged 12-17 with at least 1 dose
- San Benito County: 74.1% aged 12-17 with at least 1 dose