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It’s official: This group doesn’t need a Covid vaccination in California

Children play in front of at the SFUSD District headquarters of San Francisco. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

California backed away from a requirement that public school children be vaccinated against Covid, the latest mandate to fade away as the virus continues to circulate.  

In 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers attempted to add Covid vaccines to the required roster of inoculations for children attending school in person. But the federal emergency declaration will soon end, causing health officials to drop that effort, EdSource first reported on Friday.

Vaccines and masks are still recommended or encouraged, however. 

“Health officials strongly recommend immunization of students and staff against Covid-19 to prevent hospitalization and other serious complications, including death,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement on Monday. “Widespread vaccination has contributed to keeping California children in school to learn and to strengthen social connections.”

Booster shots only complicated matters. The state never firmly established what “fully vaccinated” meant once various strains of Covid emerged and public-health officials OK’d further shots.

School districts like San Francisco and Berkeley have deferred to state guidelines, which had never included Covid vaccine or mask mandates. Berkeley Unified School District last June dropped requirements for staff and students to be vaccinated or get tested on a weekly basis. 

Instead, schools continue to encourage students and staff to get vaccinated. In San Francisco, 90% of residents ages 12 to 24 have completed their vaccine series. A quarter of children up to 4 years old and 79% of kids between the ages of 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated as well. 

Covid, however, has continued to affect in-person attendance. SFUSD saw its greatest declines in attendance during surges in September 2021 and January 2022. During the first two weeks of December, about 38% of students missed at least one day of school, a marked increase over 29% during the same period in 2021. 

Some other Covid safety practices remain—for now, at least. San Francisco Unified School District will offer self-swab test kits for students and staff alike through March. Spokesperson Laura Dudnick also stated that the district delivered portable air cleaners to all classrooms and shared student spaces during the previous school year. 

Any changes to required vaccinations are best done through the legislative process, CDPH added.