California Is First State to Announce COVID Vaccine Mandate for All Children

Child wearing a face mask at school.

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Key Takeaways

  • Children in public and private schools in California will be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine to attend in-person classes.
  • The mandate will go into effect when certain age groups receive full FDA approval for the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Doctors anticipate more states will follow suit.

California officials announced a plan late last week to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for children in public schools, pending full approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This makes California the first state to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine in all schools.

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella—there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press release. “Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom.”

 California currently has the lowest COVID-19 case rate in the country. "We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19," Newsom added.

How the Mandate Will Work

The mandate is dependent on the COVID-19 vaccine receiving full licensure from the FDA for children.

Currently, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for the vaccine for Americans aged 12 and older. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is currently the only vaccine fully approved by the FDA and that approval only applies for Americans aged 16 and older. 

Under the new mandate, the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for children to attend a public or private school in person in California. The state plans to phase in the requirement by grade spans—seventh through twelfth and kindergarten through sixth to “promote smoother implementation.”

Any student who is not vaccinated may enroll in independent study, but may not attend in-person classes. There is a caveat, though, that says that vaccine requirements established by regulation, not legislation, must be subject to exemptions for both medical reasons and personal beliefs.

Currently, California requires all school staff to verify their vaccination status or be tested weekly, but the new mandate will require that all staff be vaccinated no later than when the requirement takes effect for students.

The requirements will start the term after the ages in a full grade span are approved for use of the COVID-19 vaccine by the FDA. 

“Based on current projections for full approval for ages 12+, we anticipate the requirement would apply to grades 7-12 starting on July 1, 2022,” state documents say.

When Will the Vaccines Be Approved for Children?

Juan Salazar, MD, MPH, FAAP, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and physician in chief at Connecticut Children's, tells Verywell that most medical professionals are “very hopeful” that the COVID-19 vaccines will be approved for children of all ages soon.

“We’re missing that part of our system to try to really finalize this pandemic as soon as we can, he says. “Vaccinating the kids is going to be critical.”

So, when do experts think it will happen? There needs to be “at least” six months of observation after a vaccine is granted emergency use authorization before it can be fully approved, Timothy Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells Verywell. It will likely be November at the earliest for kids aged 12 and up.

The timeline is slightly unclear for those who are 5 and up. Pfizer has submitted data to the FDA but has not yet officially requested an emergency use authorization. The EUA is anticipated to come sometime in November, which would mean full authorization wouldn’t happen until at least late spring. Younger children would follow at an even later point. 

What This Means For You

If you have children who go to school in California, they will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine once they are fully approved. If your child is 12 and older, you can make an appointment to get them vaccinated here.

More School Mandates Will Likely Follow

Doctors applaud the move. “Schools have the ability to set whatever requirements they want for entry, and I do think trying to be resilient to COVID-19 justifies this being added to the list of school-required vaccinations,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Verywell.

Murphy states that the vaccine mandate is “a good idea.”

“All 50 states mandate at least five vaccines for children to attend in-person school, and many mandate more than that,” he says.

Mandates are also shown to increase vaccination rates, he adds, noting that more Americans have gotten vaccinated after the Biden Administration said companies with 100 or more employees are required to either mandate their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have staff be tested weekly for the virus. 

Adalja anticipates that other states will follow California’s lead. “I do think many states will follow suit, but probably not all,” he says.

Salazar agrees. “I think it would be surprising if other states don’t follow,” he says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker.

  2. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.