California to delay COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students

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(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California will not require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for at least another school year, health officials announced Thursday.

The earliest the requirement would go into effect is now July 1, 2023, pending full approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a COVID-19 vaccine for children under 16 years old.

State officials had initially said the mandate could be implemented as late as July 2022, depending on FDA full approval.

The state is delaying implementation of the mandate for the 2022-2023 school year “to ensure sufficient time for successful implementation of new vaccine requirements,” the state health department said.

“[The California Department of Public Health] strongly encourages all eligible Californians, including children, to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón said in a statement. “We continue to ensure that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by the best science and data available.”

California became the first state in the country to move forward on mandating COVID-19 vaccines for school children in October, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state will require the vaccine for all school children ages 12-17 once the FDA grants full approval. The mandate allow exemptions for medical reasons, personal beliefs and religious beliefs.

Since then, one other state — Louisiana — has announced a vaccine mandate for school children, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. The mandate, slated to go into effect for the 2022-2023 school year, would only apply to those who are eligible for a fully approved vaccine and includes an opt-out for parents.

Schools and universities around the country have also instituted vaccine requirements, including the Los Angeles public school district. Enforcement of its mandate requiring students ages 12 and up to be fully vaccinated was postponed from January to the fall to allow more time for compliance.

The FDA has granted full approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 16 and up, and for Moderna’s vaccine for those ages 18 and up.

Pfizer has requested to expand its approval to include those ages 12 to 15.

When the requirement was announced in October, 63.5% of Californa residents aged 12-17 had received at least one dose.

“For 12 to 17, we’re not where we need to be. And so we hope this encourages folks to get vaccinated,” Newsom said at the time.

Currently, 74.2% of residents aged 12-17 have gotten at least one dose.

ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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