S. E. Williams |

In a bold move certain to spark controversy among the state’s anti-vaxxers, many conservatives, and parents who remain vaccine hesitant, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Friday, California will be the first state in the nation to mandate COVID-19 vaccine requirements for all students in both public and private schools.

Newsom took this action on the heels of an overwhelming victory in the September 14 recall election where voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall attempt. The vote tally through October 1 shows the governor holding a commanding lead in the pushback against the recall with “no” votes totaling 61.98 percent compared to 38.02 percent of the electorate voting in favor of  his removal. The recall attempt was spearheaded by Republicans who staunchly opposed much of Newsom’s leadership related to managing  the pandemic.  

With this new mandate for all K-12 students to be vaccinated, the governor continues to lead the nation regarding the implementation of COVID-19 safety precautions. California was home to some of the earliest cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020 and Newsom was the first in the nation to issue a state-wide “stay at home” mandate last year in an aggressive effort to protect the state’s residents by acting to curb the virus’ spread. Newsom also made California the first state to require masks at school for students, teachers, and staff as well as being the first governor to implement vaccination measures for teachers and staff.

At Newsom’s direction, California became the first state to require masks at school for students, teachers, and staff. (source: nea.org)

Once again, the governor is taking the lead on what is certain to be a controversial issue despite the haunting reality that the U.S. just surpassed another devastating milestone in the ongoing war against the deadly coronavirus.

Just  months ago people did not have a choice

When San Bernardino County resident Gina Traylor contracted and succumbed to the virus during the holiday season last year, her death frayed the sinew that bound together a four-generation household with family members ranging from early elementary school-aged children to great grandparents in their mid-seventies. Several members of the family contracted the virus, two were hospitalized and spent desperate days fighting for their lives, Gina, as noted, did not survive. 

The virus spread through the household and Gina died within days of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announcement of the first emergency use authorization of a vaccine to protect against the virus.

There were no vaccines to protect the essential workers in her household, no vaccines for her grandchildren,  and no one will ever know who brought the virus home—it could have been anyone since adults and children can carry the virus while remaining asymptomatic themselves. What is known is that the virus left this family, like hundreds of thousands of families across the country, devastated.

During a discussion with Black Voice News, Gina’s mother confirmed that she and her husband, having both survived COVID, are now vaccinated. Hopefully, vaccines will be available for the children in the household under 12 sometime this fall. 

People are still dying

The same day Newsom announced the vaccine mandate for California students, the nation surpassed 700,000 COVID-19 related deaths since the onset of the pandemic.  This death toll surpasses the number of Americans lost to the great Flu Pandemic of 1918 by 25,000 lives and counting. The combined death toll in the Inland Empire recently  surpassed 10,500.

Last week the U.S. surpassed 700,000 deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (source: unm.edu)

More younger adults, youth and children are getting sick

One factor became clear as the virus spread in recent months–most people currently being impacted and succumbing to COVID-19 are primarily the unvaccinated. In addition, data shows the average age of Californians dying of COVID is getting younger, having dropped from 73 years of age to 66 years and falling.

The upward trend in younger Americans getting sick from the virus began in 2020. According to the agency, “COVID-19 cases in children, adolescents, and young adults have increased since summer 2020…” Noting further, “Trends among children and adolescents aged 0 to 17 years paralleled those among adults.”

COVID-19 weekly incidence, by age group — United States, March 1–December 12, 2020
The upward trend in younger Americans getting sick from the virus began in 2020. (source: cdc.com)

The trend continued in 2021. As of September 23, over 5.7 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, notes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The number of new child COVID cases remains exceptionally high.” AAP reports. “Nearly 207,000 cases were added the past week, the fifth consecutive week with over 200,000 child cases added.

The number of children and adolescents who tested positive nearly tripled the second half of July. This  jump in pediatric cases occurred just as schools reopened for in-person learning. Between July 1 and July 14, California reported 4,835 new cases in the zero to 17 age group. The following week the count jumped to 13,757 new cases in children and adolescents.

Children and COVID-19: State Data Report American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association Cumulative Number of Child COVID-19 Cases: 7/29/21

The numbers in this report represent cumulative counts since states began reporting. The data are based on how public agencies collect, categorize and post information. All data reported by state/local health departments are preliminary and subject to change and reporting may change over time. Notably, in the summer of 2021, some states have revised cases counts previously reported, begun reporting less frequently, or dropped metrics previously reported. (aap.org)

The good news is cases are continuing to decline across the state from their recent peaks. 

The case rate among children, however, is declining at a slower pace than it is for adults. By mid-September  the  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services noted, kids made up a greater share of COVID-19 infections.

California’s data related to this was assessed by infectious disease epidemiologist and former director of the University of California HIV/AIDS Research Program, George Lemp, Lemp told the Mercury News in mid-September that the impact of COVID cases since California reopened in June are being driven in large part by infections in young adults ages 18 to 34. Most concerning among Lemp’s findings, however, is,  “[A]larming increases are also seen in children and adolescents, who were previously considered less affected by the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Newsom’s  COVID-19 vaccine mandate for California students

Newsom’s plan adds the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations already required to attend in- person schooling. The COVID-19 vaccination mandate becomes effective when the vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for middle and high school grades.

“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. [J]ust like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, [the new measure] is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” said Newsom. 

“Vaccines work,” he stressed. “We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Based on current information, the requirement is expected to apply to grades 7 to 12, which corresponds to ages 12 plus beginning July 1, 2022. For students ages 5 to 11 which encompasses grades K through 6, the requirement will take effect at the start of the term following full approval of that grade span, to be defined as January 1st or July 1st, whichever comes first. 

“Local health jurisdictions and local education agencies are encouraged to implement requirements ahead of a statewide requirement based on their local circumstances,” Newsom encouraged.

The public reacts

Members of the public were quick to react to the governor’s announcement on social media.

A person only identified as Independent noted, “Sure glad my kids are all adults, I would not like to have to make a decision on a vaccine that only has a 67 percent efficacy rate, that is a D+ on a grading scale.” They continued, “Polio, measles, mumps, etc. practically eradicated with vaccines but this one, D+ grade, may not even work.”

Ola Grimsholm, PhD wrote, “Pure nonsense. In Sweden all restrictions are lifted, and people started to go to crowded football stadiums again. No mask mandates. No vaccine mandates.”

Christine Velez stated, “Vaccines for measles, mumps and more have been around for decades. The flu vaccine isn’t required so why should the COVID vaccine be required? Time to homeschool my kids.”

This is just a sample of the negative reactions but there were also comments of support for the decision including Ted who wrote, “Gets us back to normal faster, mandates work.”

Krissy Reagan commented, “I appreciate the vaccination mandate. I just hope this leads to an off ramp for masking and all the other COVID protocols in schools. I want to be able to volunteer in the classroom again…”

Terry Givens said, “Fine with me. I would prefer not being the only one in the classroom that’s vaccinated. I have about six to eight students out with COVID.”

Header photo: Screenshot of Gov. Newsom announcing mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 grades.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager...

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