Local schools received a few calls of concern after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Oct. 1 a planned implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students in the 2022 school year.
California became the first state in the nation to announce it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for students once the vaccines become fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It also was the first state to require masks and staff vaccinations at school sites.
According to the governor’s office, the full FDA approval of the vaccine for ages 12 and higher will correspond to the grade levels of 7-12 and the approval of the vaccine for ages 5-11 will correlate with kindergarten through sixth grade.
In Newsom’s statement, he announced that when the vaccine is approved, it will join the list of other required school vaccinations that are already in place.
“The parents I have spoken to are asking for clarification regarding what it means for their children,” said Doreen Osumi, superintendent of Yuba City Unified School District.
Area school districts have not sent out any communications to parents or staff related to the planned mandate. YCUSD has been reviewing the information released by Newsom and is awaiting further information and details regarding new state mandates, said Osumi.
Similarly, Marysville Joint Unified School District has not sent out any announcements to the public and is waiting to gather more information. Fal Asrani, superintendent of MJUSD, said the district is committed to keeping all employees and families informed as soon as it has more information to share.
All required vaccinations in school districts are guided by the California Department of Public Health. At an early age, students at the transitional kindergarten and kindergarten level are required to get vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Students are required to obtain three to four doses prior to enrollment depending on their age and are required to have five by the time students reach the age of 7. Other vaccines required for students are polio, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella, also commonly known as chickenpox.
Most required immunizations are asked to be provided during the TK/K level. When students reach seventh grade, they are asked to get two additional vaccinations: one dose for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or Tdap -- also known as the whooping cough booster -- and two doses for varicella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not set immunization requirements for schools or childcare facilities.
Each U.S. state sets the requirements and exemptions to allow children and students to attend learning facilities. According to the Immunization Action Coalition, nearly all states require the Tdap vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine, Hib vaccine against Haemophilus influenzae type B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine, polio vaccine and the MMR against the measles, mumps and rubella. In 2018-19, California immunization rates for kindergarteners was 98.4 percent, the third highest percentage reported in the state since immunization requirements for the kindergarten level began in the school year 2001-02.
Under the California School Immunization law, children in California are required to receive certain vaccines to attend any public, private or nursery schools along with child care centers, family day care homes and child care centers. According to law, schools and pre-k facilities are required to enforce immunization requirements and collect immunization records. Any other disease deemed appropriate by the CDPH may also be required, according to the board policy manual of YCUSD.
Parents must show their child’s immunization record as proof of immunization prior to a student’s admission.
Immunization records are uploaded and tracked through a CDPH database called CAIR, the California Immunization Registry, said Jordan Wells, health and wellness supervisor of MJUSD. According to Wells, medical exemptions can only be accepted by schools and child care facilities if an exemption is issued through the California Immunization Registry Medical Exemption website by physicians licensed in California. YCUSD has reported that there are families in the district who have approved exemptions.
As school districts await to receive more information about the state’s possible mandate, MJUSD and YCUSD are working on finishing the implementation of the state mandate requiring vaccinations among staff and faculty or their submission to weekly testing, announced in August for California’s educators and school staff.
About 73 percent of YCUSD staff and faculty have submitted proof of vaccination that was collected electronically by the district through email copies of the vaccine verification, electronic vaccine verifications or staff members who directly presented the verification to the YCUSD HR department. The deadline for school districts to be in full compliance of the mandate is Oct. 15.
According to Osumi, of the remaining 27 percent who have not submitted proof of vaccination, 45 percent are certificated staff and staff members who hold some form of credential like teachers, counselors and psychologists. About 55 percent are classified as staff members, which are support staff like office staff, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers and others. YCUSD will begin weekly testing for staff and faculty on Oct. 18 for those who do not submit proof of vaccination. As of Oct. 5, No staff member has been dismissed or terminated for refusal to cooperate.
“Some educators have chosen not to get the vaccine or are waiting until more research has been done to decide whether to get the vaccine,” said Jennifer Passaglia, chief business official of MJUSD.
MJUSD will begin its weekly staff and faculty school testing sites on Sunday. Staff members and educators can also test through other local testing options offered by the Yuba County Health and Human Services Department and submit their verification to the district.
“The order from the California Department of Public Health is a part of the state’s efforts to protect
Californians from the dangerous delta variant of COVID-19 that is now circulating in our community,” said Asrani. “MJUSD is supportive of any measures that can be taken to keep our staff and students safe and healthy as that is our top priority.”