CORONAVIRUS | VACCINES

What is the vaccine mandate for schools in California?

California has mandated that teachers and staff be vaccinated against covid-19, now school districts are set to require students 12 and up to do the same.

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What is the vaccine mandate for schools in California?
Brandon Bell AFP

The Delta covid-19 variant is behind a surge of new cases across the country which is affecting children more severely. California Governor Gavin Newsom is urging all school staff to get vaccinated or be tested at least once per week "to give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning.”

California was the first state to make such a requirement even before the US Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine full approval for those 16 and older. That move has now been followed by other states. So far one school district, Culver City Unified, informed that students will also be required to show proof of vaccination and other districts are expected to follow suit.

What are the covid-19 requirements for returning to school in California?

Following guidance from the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics California has implemented universal masking in school settings. School staff, students and visitors 2 and older will be required to wear facial covering to help mitigate the spread of covid-19.

Although California has a statewide vaccination rate of 55 percent for all ages, there still exist large swaths around the state below 50 percent. In Lassen county only 28 percent of the population is vaccinated. Data from the state shows that the likelihood of getting infected with the coronavirus and ending up in hospital is much higher for those who are unvaccinated, especially in denser urban areas.

The statewide vaccine mandate applies to staff members serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The policy took effect 12 August and schools will have until 15 October to be in full compliance. “Not everybody will be overwhelmed by this, but we think will be well received because it’s the right thing to do to keep our most precious resource healthy and safe, our children here in this state,” Newsom said when he announced the policy.

Vaccine mandate for students and masking outdoors

The Culver City Unified district which has 7,000 students is already collecting information on student and staff vaccine status. The deadline to provide proof of vaccination is 19 November “to give everyone the opportunity to make their vaccine plans.” The school district will also require universal masking outdoors for elementary and middle schoolers.

So far it is the only district that has put in place such a requirement but “other districts are thinking about it,” according to Quoc Tran, superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District. He told the Mercury News that he has been in conversation with other district superintendents about the vaccine mandate. Currently, Pfizer's vaccine is the only one approved for those between 12 and 17.

What has the reaction been to the California vaccine mandate

Teacher unions and teacher associations have come out in favor of the vaccination mandate in California. Randi Weingarten, president of the nation's second-largest teachers union, speaking to Meet the Press said " Now, let me just say, my members have stepped up. 90% of the teacher members have actually gotten the vaccine. But I do think that the circumstances have changed and that vaccination is a community responsibility. And it weighs really heavily on me that kids under 12 can't get vaccinated.” Adding that she felt the need to “say this as a matter of personal conscience.”