Not yet. But Governor Gavin Newsom has announced a phased approach for requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for K-12 students, laying out a timeline that begins when federal officials grant full approval for doses to younger age groups.
FDA approval must come first
At a news conference on Oct. 1, 2021, Newsom said the first phase of the mandate calls for students in grades seven through 12 who attend public or private schools in person to be vaccinated at the start of a new semester. But the requirement won’t kick in until after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifts its emergency use authorization and issues full and final approval to vaccines for children 12 to 15.
For example, if the FDA issues full approval in January 2022 or in months that follow, phase one of the mandate will take effect the following July, impacting upper-grade students in time for the fall 2022 semester. If federal officials act sooner, which is considered less likely, the mandate could potentially begin in January.
In the initial phase, all K-12 school employees will also be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. But medical, personal and religious exemptions will be allowed for students and staff, the governor said.
In a subsequent phase, once the FDA has officially approved the vaccine for younger children, a similar mandate will apply to students in kindergarten through grade six.
No vaccines yet for younger children
So far, the FDA has issued full approval of the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. However, the vaccine continues to be under emergency use authorization for children 12 to 15 years of age. Parental consent is required for anyone under 18 to get vaccinated, and no vaccines are authorized yet for children five to 11 years of age.
Gov. Newsom has noted that California schoolchildren are already required to present proof of 10 vaccinations before they can attend school in person, including polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. This would be the 11th, he said.
Locally elected school boards and district superintendents are generally responsible for approving and implementing school safety plans with input from their stakeholders. But those plans must meet or exceed the standards set by the California Department of Public Health and spelled out in the governor’s executive orders.
This year, face coverings must be worn by all students and staff while they’re indoors at school, and staff members have to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or get tested weekly. The state has also issued quarantine guidance that varies based on vaccination status and whether one or both parties is wearing a mask.