CA becomes 1st US state to require COVID-19 vaccines for schools

photo of 2 vaccination center employees
Andrew Huang/File
Two people handle packages of syringes at a vaccination site. California is the first state to initiate plans for a COVID-19 vaccination mandate in all schools.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans Oct. 1 to require students attending school in person to get vaccinated for COVID-19, making it the first U.S. state to implement such a measure.

The requirement will take effect after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval of COVID-19 vaccines for middle and high school grades, according to a press release from Newsom’s office. Local schools in the Berkeley Unified School District plan to comply with the new statewide measure, BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott in an email.

“The mandate will be phased in by grade span,” McDermott said in an email. “Once that happens, students in that grade span will need to be vaccinated by the start of the next academic term.”

Based on existing mandates, full vaccination approval for students ages 12 and up corresponds to grades seven to 12, while full approval of students ages five to 11 refers to kindergarten through sixth grade, according to the press release.

Newsom’s new measure is estimated to apply to grades seven to 12 on July 1, 2022, the press release said. Once it becomes effective for students, all public school employees will be required to get vaccinated as well, McDermott noted.

“We see a high vaccination rate among our eligible students and continue to work, in partnership with the City of Berkeley, to make vaccines available to our school community,” McDermott said in an email.

Joseph Lewnard, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, said the vaccination requirement is “essential” to return to pre-pandemic life.

He noted the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools and said vaccines are crucial to prevent infecting vulnerable peers with the virus, which is the case for other diseases as well.

Sadie Costello, associate adjunct professor at the campus School of Public Health, said she is “relieved” that the COVID-19 vaccine is required for in-person attendance in California schools.

“Vaccines work,” Costello said in an email. “The high vaccination rates in California, in combination with masking in classrooms and other prevention measures, has prevented school closures and outbreaks in California.”

She noted that since the state already has requirements for other diseases in place at schools, there is “no reason” for COVID-19 to be treated differently.

Costello emphasized the importance of requiring vaccines for students, noting that keeping students in schools is “critical” for their well-being and the economy.

“Vaccinating children will help their own health, the health of their families, and the whole economy by keeping schools open,” Costello said in an email.

Contact Rina Rossi at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @RinaRossi8.