It was the shot heard around the state Friday late morning. All school districts throughout the state, public and private schools learned of the news that the Governor would implement a vaccine requirement for all students pending full FDA approval.
According to the announcement, Newsom will add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations required to attend school in-person when the vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for middle and high school grades. The historic move makes California the first state in the nation to announce such a measure.
Following the other first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination measures, Governor Newsom announced the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for in-person school attendance—just like vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and more.
“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” said Governor Newsom. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
It should be noted that what some call extreme or bold in public health measures has resulted in California maintaining the lowest case rate in the entire country. Furthermore it is one of only two states to have advanced out of the CDC’s ‘high’ COVID transmission category. More information about the announcement can be found here.
The vast majority of school districts have reported that over 95% of students have returned to in-person instruction this school year, as can be seen on the state’s Student Supports & In-Person Dashboard. Thanks to unprecedented resources and public health measures (measures shown to be highly effective), California is leading national trends in preventing school closures and keeping kids in classrooms, accounting for only 14 out of over 2,000 school closures nationwide, or roughly 0.7% – despite the fact that California educates an estimated 12% of the nation’s public school students. If California’s rates had aligned with national trends, the state would have seen upwards of 240 school closures.
Governor Newsom's office says "In order to further protect students and staff and continue supporting a safe return to in-person instruction for all students, the Governor directed the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to follow the procedures established by the Legislature to add the COVID-19 vaccine to other vaccinations required for in-person school attendance—such as measles, mumps, and rubella—pursuant to the Health and Safety Code. COVID-19 vaccine requirements will be phased-in by grade span, which will also promote smoother implementation."
Upon full FDA approval of age groups within a grade span, CDPH will consider the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians prior to implementing a requirement. Following existing statute, full approval of ages 12+ corresponds to grades 7-12, and full approval of ages 5-11 corresponds to grades K-6. Students who are under the age of full approval, but within the grade span, will be required to be vaccinated once they reach the age of full approval (with a reasonable period of time to receive both doses), consistent with existing procedures for other vaccines. The requirement will take effect at the start of the term following full approval of that grade span, to be defined as January 1st or July 1st, whichever comes first. Based on current information, the requirement is expected to apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, 2022. However, local health jurisdictions and local education agencies are encouraged to implement requirements ahead of a statewide requirement based on their local circumstances.
So how did local school districts in the High Desert respond to the announcement?
Hesperia Unified School District's Superintendent, Dave Olney said "I’ve tried to give [everyone] a break from my voice, but I felt it important to reach out to [them] today. Over the past year and a half, we have dealt with the various issues, concerns, and mandates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have heard from many [people] during this time. Some have felt that we needed to do more, others have felt we should do less. I understand the competing views and the frustration that this time has continued to cause throughout our community." Olney went on to say "we are still working to gather information, but nothing will be put in place immediately. ." His full statement has been released on the HUSD website and can be read here.
In Apple Valley, the school district took to Facebook where they said "We understand this will have a significant impact on our families and our community. We are committed to supporting families that may desire an independent study option." The full post can be viewed here.
Victor Valley Union High School District also responded to our request for comment. Public Engagement Information Manager, Kristopher Riley, who represents the school district said "
Health and safety remains a top priority for the Victor Valley Union High School District, and we will continue to comply with mandates from the State of California. It is our understanding that the vaccine mandate is not likely to take effect any earlier than July 1, 2022. Unvaccinated students can continue to attend school at this time. Those who wish to get vaccinated have the opportunity to do so now, with many vaccination sites in our area, including vaccination events at our school sites this month."