Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all eligible students will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19, making California the first state in the nation to do so. (Courtesy SFUSD)

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all eligible students will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19, making California the first state in the nation to do so. (Courtesy SFUSD)

California becomes the first state to require COVID-19 vaccines for eligible kids

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that all eligible students will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19, making California the first state in the nation to do so.

Speaking at James Denman Middle School in San Francisco, the governor applauded the high vaccination rates among staff and students in San Francisco Unified School District, which had so far avoided implementing a vaccine mandate for kids. About 90 percent of San Fransico youth between 12-17 years old are fully vaccinated, according to San Francisco data.

“I challenged the staff and families and students, one of the things we need to do is we have to take care of each other. And the ways we do that is by making sure we are getting vaccinated and wearing masks,” said San Francisco Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews. “This community has responded overwhelmingly.”

The new requirement will be in effect once the shot received final approval for younger age groups. Currently, the two-shot Pfizer vaccine is already approved for people as young as 12 years old.

Pfizer has submitted research to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5-11, and approval is still pending.

In September, SFUSD opened four new vaccination clinics at schools across The City. Those sites include Malcolm X Academy School in the Bayview, Balboa High School in the Excelsior, McCoppin Elementary School in the Inner Richmond, and Sunset Elementary School in the Outer Sunset.

Locations are offering doses once a week including on evenings and weekends. Community members not a part of SFUSD are also encouraged to get vaccinated at the clinics, where walk-ins are welcome. Each of the four school sites has the initial capacity to administer 62 doses each day and is prepared to expand to up to 200 a day, as needed.

“Our vaccination rates are high but we have more work to do to close the remaining gap. Our priority remains in protecting our most vulnerable populations – these include children under 12 years old who have started the school year unvaccinated,” said Director of Health Dr. Grant Colfax. “Through our guidance, we have many safeguards in place to support schools, and vaccinating the school community is a critical part of our efforts.”

The most recent announcement adds to the list of around 10 other diseases that San Francisco students must be vaccinated against to attend school in person, including chickenpox, measles and tetanus. Religious and medical exemptions will be considered, and families who refuse to comply will be offered remote learning through independent study.

“These requirements are working… they’re ending this pandemic and getting our kids educated,” Newsom said on Friday, referring to other local and statewide vaccine requirements, such as one for health care workers that went into effect Friday. “If that’s the intention, to get our economy moving and getting our kids back to in-person instruction, then I say let’s get this done and get others to follow.”

Several San Francisco school leaders said they support the governor’s directive.

“Hopefully this will alleviate the concerns many educators have concerning the spread of COVID-19 and will lead to fewer teacher absences and increase the number of substitute teachers available,” said Michael Essien, president of United Administrators of San Francisco. “This vaccine mandate will help education return to some semblance of normalcy. Our future is counting on it.

Examiner staff writer Ida Mojadad contributed to this report.

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