California to introduce mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for schoolchildren, in nationwide first

Under a new mandate by Governor Gavin Newsom, California will require all eligible schoolchildren to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The order is the first of its kind in the US, and will affect millions of kids.

“Our schools already require vaccines for measles, mumps and more,” Newsom tweeted on Friday. “Why? Because vaccines work. This is about keeping our kids safe & healthy.”

Speaking at a San Francisco school shortly afterwards, Newsom said the order would apply to kids between 7th and 12th grade, aged between 12 and 17 years, and would come into effect once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves shots for this age group. At present, the FDA has issued emergency authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine to be given to children as young as 11, but it has not fully approved the jab for this group.

Once in effect, children without the jab will be forced to attend classes online, though religious and medical exemptions will be available, Newsom revealed.

The governor said that children in kindergarten through to 6th grade would come under the mandate once the FDA approves vaccines for children aged five to 11. Pfizer submitted trial data for that group earlier this week.

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Across all age groups, Pfizer’s two-dose regimen is the only Covid-19 vaccination approved by the FDA. Shots by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have been granted emergency-use authorizations, and can only be administered to people over the age of 16.

While Newsom portrayed his mandate as “about keeping our kids safe,” children are extremely unlikely to suffer serious illness or death as a result of Covid-19. Across the US, only 478 children aged between 0 and 17  of the disease, out of a total of 687,000 deaths. 

In the UK, researchers recently found that a child’s chance of dying from Covid-19 is somewhere around one in 500,000. Such probabilities are comparable to an average American’s likelihood of being struck by lightning, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Newsom was one of the first governors to impose a harsh lockdown at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and another strict stay-at-home order as cases surged last winter. In addition to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates for federal workers, Newsom has brought in mandates of his own already, requiring all health workers to get inoculated and all school staff to either take the jab or submit to regular testing.

Additionally, California requires all K12 students and staff to wear face masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

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