Fiscal Report
Public Education's Point of Reference for Making Educated Decisions

Student COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement Announced

Governor Gavin Newsom announced today, October 1, 2021, that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations that are required for in-person school attendance. The requirement will be phased in by grade span and will apply to all public and private elementary and secondary school students. In addition, all staff will be required to be vaccinated when the requirement takes effect for students.

The student vaccine mandate will be implemented in two phases—first for grades 7–12 and then for grades kindergarten–6. Upon full approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a COVID-19 vaccine for age groups within a grade span, the CDPH will initiate the rulemaking process to promulgate the needed regulations that will address the necessary details of the requirement, such as the scope of the exemptions that must be included. The regulations will take effect at the start of the following term, either January 1 or July 1, in order to give parents and local educational agencies (LEAs) sufficient time to prepare and implement the requirement.

With the process outlined today, Governor Newsom anticipates the requirement to apply to students in grades 7–12 starting on July 1, 2022. Students who are within a grade span covered by the new vaccine mandate, but who are under the age captured by full FDA approval for the vaccine, will be required to be vaccinated once they reach the age of full FDA approval, consistent with existing procedures for other vaccines. The FDA has given full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for individuals aged 16 years old and over, and additional FDA approvals are expected in the months to come. 

Health and Safety Code Section 120338 allows the CDPH to add to the list of required immunizations for school admission. Requirements established through the regulatory process, however, must include exemptions for both medical reasons and personal beliefs. The mandate will be a condition of in-person attendance, and students who are not vaccinated may enroll in independent study.

Currently, the CDPH requires all K–12 staff to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing (see “State Requires School Staff Vaccinations” in the August 2021 Fiscal Report). Today’s announcement removes the testing allowance and will be solely a vaccine mandate when the requirement takes effect for students.  

Various school districts around the state have adopted variations of a vaccine mandate for students and/or staff, and many more are in the process of adopting or are considering such a mandate. Governor Newsom encourages LEAs and local public health departments to move forward with their own vaccine requirements while the state mandate establishes a statewide standard. With this announcement, California becomes the first state in the nation to announce a COVID-19 vaccine requirement in schools.