Children sit at the ends of long tables to maintain their five to six-foot social distance in the classroom. Photo by Chris Stone
A classroom is arranged so that children sit at the ends of long tables to maintain a five to six-foot social distance. Photo by Chris Stone

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a first-in-the-nation mandate Friday requiring eligible students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend in-person classes at public and private schools.

The requirement, however, will not take effect right away. The mandate will be phased in beginning the school term after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives full authorization for the vaccine’s use on children aged 12 and over, meaning the policy likely won’t take effect until next year, potentially not until the fall, beginning with kids in grades 7 and up.

San Diego County Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher expressed his support for the mandate.

“Vaccines protect people from viruses and disease,” he said. “Children are already required to receive vaccinations before beginning school and I agree the COVID-19 vaccine should be added to that list. I appreciate Governor Gavin Newsom’s bold action to require the COVID-19 vaccination for students next year.”

The requirement for students in kindergarten through sixth grade will not take effect until a vaccine receives approval for younger children.

The Pfizer vaccine is currently fully authorized for people aged 16 and up. It is offered only under an emergency-use authorization for those aged 12-15.

Newsom said religious and medical exemptions will be permitted under the state’s mandate.

The mandate will also apply to all school staff as soon as it kicks in for students. School teachers and staff in the state are already required to be either vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing. The new mandate will eliminate the testing option.

“While there continues to be encouraging signs and continuing to see progress with more and more people who maybe were on the fence, that are now getting the vaccine … there’s still a struggle to get to where we need to go, and that means we need to do more and we need to do better,” Newsom said while making the announcement at a school in San Francisco.

Updated at 2:35 p.m., Friday, Oct. 1, 2021

City News Service contributed to this article.

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