SAN FRANCISCO - California on Friday became the first state in the nation to require students be vaccinated against the coronavirus for in-person learning.
The mandate will apply to students in public and private schools in California.
The exact timeline for when the rules kick in remains to be determined. The state is waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to issue full approval of a COVID vaccine for children. The requirement will take effect either on January 1 or July 1 after the FDA makes such a decision.
There had been mounting pressure from school boards, parents and others to introduce a vaccine requirement for students.
Based on current projections, the governor's office said it anticipated the requirement would apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, 2022.
As of Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that just 63% of students ages 12 to 17 are vaccinated and that isn't good enough.
"We're all exhausted by this pandemic," Newsom said. "We're exhausted by the seasonality of it, were exhausted by these variants, mutations, and we're all left wondering as we now move through the summer surge. And while there continues to be encouraging signs … 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 to reach out and to make available more opportunities for people to get vaccinated."
He added: "We have no trepidation, no well, no hesitancy in encouraging local districts to move forward more expeditiously."
Students who are under the age of full approval will be required to be vaccinated once they reach the age of full approval, with a reasonable period of time to receive both doses. A student who is not vaccinated may remain enrolled in independent study, but may not attend in-person instruction, according to the governor's order.
The COVID vaccine mandate will be treated just like other vaccinations required to attend school, such as measles, mumps, and rubella.
"This is just another vaccine," Newsom said.
There may be exemptions "for both medical reasons and personal beliefs."
To change this and persuade anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated will require an act of legislation, Newsom said, adding that's what needs to happen because this mandate is an executive order.
The vaccine rules are not just for students.
Newsom also directed that adults be held to at least the same standards as students for the COVID-19 vaccine.
While currently, California requires all K-12 educators to verify their vaccination status or be tested weekly, all adult staff will now be required to be vaccinated no later than when the requirement takes effect for students. The rule also encompasses bus drivers, cafeteria workers, para professionals and anyone else who works in the schools.
The governor's announcement comes after a handful of school districts, such as Los Angeles Unified, Culver City Unified, San Diego Unified, West Contra Costa Unified and Oakland Unified have all approved vaccine mandates for students. Public schools in Piedmont and Hayward have also enacted vaccine mandates.
Some school board members have lamented the piecemeal approach to vaccination orders and called on the state to have a more unified approach. Some have even faced harassment from parents who don't want their children to be vaccinated or wear masks in schools.
And Newsom acknowledged that.
"We need [clear vaccine mandates] on a consistent and sustainable basis, not an episodic basis," Newsom said. "We've got 1,050 school districts. We've got a lot of different points of views and opinions to regionality, a lot of distinctions. We thought this was the best and most appropriate next step for the state of California."
At a school board meeting in Richmond on Thursday, some parents expressed their hesitation with the new rules.
"My son is a very healthy person," said parent George Poole, attending what he said was his first board meeting. "We don't have any idea about the long term effects of this vaccine."
But vaccines are safe and effective, health experts across the country have ruled.
Contra Costa County's Public Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano explained that vaccine complications reported among teens are miniscule compared to the protection provided individuals and families.
"I have teenage nephews myself and I am so glad they got the vaccine," said Farrnitano, adding, "it is the most powerful tool we have."
California’s schools have been open for nearly a month longer than most other states, Newsom said, but have experienced school closures at a far lower rate.
California educates approximately 12% of students in the nation but California schools account for approximately 0.5% of school closures, which have occurred to regions with lower vaccination rates.
Newsom addressed those leaders who have professed a desire to have children be in school but yet have not followed the science.
"And as a consequence, is the health of many of these district's kids," Newsom said. "So schools have actually closed more frequently in those states that have not been more disciplined in terms of advancing a more scientific and data driven approach."
KTVU's Debora Villalon contributed to this report.