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Schoolchildren in California will need to get the COVID vaccine, governor says

The requirement will only be effective after the vaccine gets full approval for kids by the FDA.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that all schoolchildren in the state will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus for in-person learning, making California the first US state to issue a vaccine mandate for schoolkids. The requirement will go into effect once a vaccine has been given full approval for school-aged children by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA only for people ages 16 and older. For children ages 12-15, the vaccine has an emergency use authorization, which means it hasn't made it all the way through regulatory review. For younger kids, ages 5-11, there's no emergency authorization yet, but Pfizer says the vaccine is safe and effective for that age group and that the company expects to apply for authorization soon. 

Pfizer's is the only coronavirus vaccine fully approved by the FDA. It's also the only COVID-19 vaccine available for use in kids as young as 12 years old. 

The California vaccine requirement is based on a "grade span," which is tied to kids' ages. Once the FDA gives full approval for ages 12-15, kids in grades 7-12 (usually ages 12-18) must get vaccinated. Then, once the FDA gives the OK for ages 5-11, kids in kindergarten through sixth grade (typically in that same age range) must get their shots.

The governor's office said in a release that the vaccine requirement is expected to kick in for grades 7-12 starting July 1, 2022, though it could begin as early as January. For kindergarten through sixth grade, it'll start later.

"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)," according to the release.

There are currently 10 other vaccine requirements for kids before they enter school, Newsom said during his announcement, including shots for measles and mumps. The vaccine for COVID-19 will be the 11th added to a "well-established list" of requirements, he said. As is the case with the other vaccines, medical, personal and religious exemptions will be made for the coronavirus shots, Newsom said. 

Waiting for the FDA to fully approve the vaccine, Newsom said, will "give us time to work with districts -- give us time to work with parents and educators to build more trust and confidence." 

Newsom said 63.5% of Californians ages 12-17 have had at least one shot of Pfizer.

At least five school districts in California have passed vaccine mandates already, the Los Angeles Times reported, including the Los Angeles and San Diego districts. The LA district will mandate vaccines for kids age 12 and older, without waiting for full FDA approval, while San Diego will mandate vaccines only in students age 16 and older. Both districts have already started receiving cease and desist letters, according to the LA Times.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.