California will delay COVID-19 vaccine requirements for schools until the 2023-2024 school year, citing a lag in the full federal approval of the shot for many younger students.
The California Department of Public Health on Thursday announced the state “will not initiate the regulatory process for a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for the 2022-2023 school year and as such, any vaccine requirements would not take effect until after full FDA approval and no sooner than July 1, 2023.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2021 announced he would mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all students starting the term after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approves shots for their age range.
The state plans to phase in the school vaccine rules by grade. California students in grades seven through 12 will first be required to get their COVID-19 vaccines, followed by students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The CDPH said it’s deferring implementation of this order because the FDA “has not yet fully approved COVID-19 vaccines for individuals of all ages within the 7 — 12 grade span.”
In Washington state this week, the Board of Health voted unanimously that COVID-19 vaccines will not be required for students to attend K-12 schools.
Some of the main reasons the advisory group and board agreed not to require COVID vaccines for students stemmed from accessibility and implementation concerns, rather than vaccine effectiveness issues.
If new data on how the vaccine affects school-age kids surfaces, or if a new variant emerges that appears to show more severe disease in children, for example, the board could revisit the issue in the future, said Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, the state’s science officer.
Currently in California, children and teens age 5 to 15 can receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines under an FDA emergency use authorization. The agency has fully approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only for people age 16 and older.
“CDPH strongly encourages all eligible Californians, including children, to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, California Department of Public Health director and state Public Health officer.
“We continue to ensure that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by the best science and data available,” Aragón added. “Under the Governor’s SMARTER plan, California is making informed decisions on how to further protect students and staff, to keep children safely in classrooms.”
Only about 34% of California children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDPH data. The vaccination rate is much higher for those age 12 to 17 — about 67% of children and teens in that age group are fully vaccinated.
The news comes after Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, announced he was holding a bill that would’ve prevented students from opting out of COVID-19 vaccine requirements using personal belief exemptions.
Pan cited a need for increased vaccine access as his reason for putting his legislation on hold.
“Until children’s access to COVID vaccination is greatly improved, I believe that a statewide policy to require COVID vaccination in schools is not the immediate priority,” Pan said in a statement. “Although it is an appropriate safety policy for many school districts in communities with good vaccine access.