California will become the first U.S. state to require COVID-19 vaccinations for children to attend public and private schools in person in a mandate that could affect millions of students.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to 10 other immunizations already required for school kids, including those for measles and mumps. Exemptions may be granted for medical reasons or because of religious or personal beliefs but the exemption rules haven’t been written yet pending public comment.
Any student without an exemption who refuses to get the vaccine would be forced to do independent study at home. “We want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it,” Newsom said during a news conference at a San Francisco middle school after visiting with seventh graders. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates,” Newsom said.
The mandate will be phased in as the U.S. government grants final vaccine approval for age groups. Currently, children 12 to 15 can only get the Pfizer vaccine under an emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Vaccines for children 5 to 11 are still in the testing stage.
Under California’s mandate, students in seventh to 12th grades would have to be vaccinated by the semester following full U.S. approval of the shots for their age group. The announcement drew a quick reaction from parents, including some who said they should have the final choice of whether to vaccinate their children.
“I’m furious. On so many levels,” said Jenny Monir, a Los Angeles mother of two who said she felt Newsom’s mandate was made more for political than public health reasons. “We’re just pawns in an elite game.”
Janet Meadows, whose children are in first grade and preschool, said she’d consider homeschooling her children before vaccinating them. “I don’t think we know enough about the vaccine to make our children get it,” she said. “There’s just a lot of unknowns. We don’t need to rush into this right now.”
Other parents praised Newsom’s stance. “I’m delighted to see that we’re trying to get this health crisis under control,” said Andrew Patterson, father of an elementary school student in San Francisco. “And we have lots of other vaccine requirements. I don’t see why this one would be any different.”
California has one of the highest vaccine rates in the country, currently 84% of people 12 and older have gotten at least one shot, and 70% are fully vaccinated, however only 63.5% of children ages 12 to 17 have received a dose.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: THE GUARDIAN
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