Covid vaccine to be mandatory for California students

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A syringe is filled with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a back-to-school event in Los Angeles, California in August 2021 (AFP/Patrick T. FALLON)
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Covid vaccinations will be compulsory for all students in California, the state's governor announced Friday -- a first in the United States, where vaccine hesitancy has slowed efforts to end the pandemic.

The plan will be phased in as Food and Drug Administration regulators grant full approval for use in younger age groups.

California "will require our kids to get the Covid-19 vaccine to come to school," said Governor Gavin Newsom.

"Our schools already require vaccines for measles, mumps and more. Why? Because vaccines work. This is about keeping our kids safe and healthy."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been granted full FDA approval for those age 16 and up.

"Once the FDA approves the vaccination in different cohorts, starting with 12 and above -- grade seven to 12 -- we will begin to apply that requirement in the next term," Newsom said as he made his announcement at a local school.

"We are all exhausted by this pandemic," added Newsom, saying the rules would apply to all students attending class in both the state or private education systems.

The rules are set to affect six million students in America's most populous state, where 84 percent of all eligible residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

More than 700,000 people have died in the United States from coronavirus, with vaccines, mask-wearing and shutdowns all becoming fiercely political issues.

"Schools are actually closed more frequently in those states that have not been more disciplined in terms in advancing more scientific and data-driven approaches to taming this disease," Newsom said.

Pfizer and BioNTech last week said they had begun submitting data to the FDA for the highly-anticipated authorization of their vaccine for children aged five to 11.

Children have been infected in greater numbers in the latest wave driven by the Delta variant, and inoculating younger people is seen as key to keeping schools open and helping thwart the pandemic.

The Pfizer vaccine received full, formal approval in the United States in August and is technically available to younger children if prescribed by a doctor.

Pfizer and BioNTech are also testing their vaccine on children as young as two.

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