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California to require all eligible students to get a COVID-19 vaccine pending FDA approval

California is the first state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren and it could go into effect as early as January 1, 2022.

SAN FRANCISCO, California — A vaccine mandate for all eligible California schoolchildren could go into effect as early as Jan 1, 2022.

California Governor Gavin Newsom made the announcement on Friday, Oct. 1. The mandate will go into effect the quarter following FDA approval, which Newsom said could be July 1, if not in January.

Exemptions for getting the COVID-19 vaccine include medical, religious and personal beliefs.

"We want to get this thing done, we want to end this pandemic. We are all exhausted by it," Newsom said.

Newsom said the state is adding the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of 10 required school vaccinations pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are no religious or personal belief exemptions for the other 10 required vaccinations as of Jan. 1, 2016.

Picking her child up from Sutter Middle School in Sacramento, Jen Dewald said the Newsom administration’s timing for the mandate sounds about right.

“Especially with FDA approval,” Dewald said. “It takes a lot of the unknowns out of it. Once approved, why not? What a great idea.”

Many kids at the school have already received the COVID-19 vaccine since it was authorized for emergency use in kids 12-15 years old in May.

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Sean Mitchell, a father of three kids in Elk Grove Unified School District, argued the COVID-19 shot is too new for him to feel comfortable with making mandatory.

“We’re just on alert and we’re just not going to follow in line with a mandate,” Mitchell said. “We want to be in the driver’s seat on the decisions for our children.”

The fact that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate could come with a personal belief exemption does little to ease his concerns.

“It’ll be some complicated process full of red tape,” Mitchell said. “[The state will] try to make it so complicated to manage… that you will probably just get the vaccine.”

Mitchell said two of his kids have already run into a vaccine requirement of a different sort: having to choose between getting the shot or sitting out from sports programs.

ABC10 spoke with ABC10 medical expert Dr. Payal Kohli about Newsom's vaccine mandate for schoolchildren.

"I think getting our kids vaccinated is going to be such a big piece of the pie, not just for our kids, but also in our fight against this pandemic," Kohli said. "Because kids five to 11 actually comprise 28 million people, it's a big piece of the pie — bigger than the 12-15, and so unless we can get all of us vaccinated, all of us are at risk for starting all over with a new variant."

The government has already given final approval for the vaccine for anyone 16 and older. 

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The mandate will go into effect in two phases: During the first phase, when final approval comes for anyone 12 and older, the state will mandate vaccines for students in seventh through 12th grades.

During that time, Newsom said there will be a similar requirement for staff, including bus drivers, custodial staff and others to get vaccinated.

"All of us have been waiting for the Biden administration's formal rule-making as it relates to his federal mandate for employees — private sector employees — we're waiting for that instruction," Newsom said. "There's a possibility, is what I was suggesting, for it to happen sooner."

In the second phase, the state will mandate the vaccine in kindergarten through sixth grades once the federal government gives final approval for anyone 5 and older.

Currently, 63.5% of people age 12-17 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 84% of all eligible Californians have received at least one dose.

"We have to do more," Newsom said. "84% of all eligible, but for 12-17, we're not where we need to be."

Newsom called his vaccine mandate for schoolchildren the "most predictable announcement throughout the pandemic."

"This is just another vaccine," Newsom said.

California currently has the lowest COVID-19 case rate in the United States.

When it comes to schools and vaccines, Los Angeles Unified School District was the first in the U.S. to issue a vaccine mandate for its eligible students this past September. In August, Newsom issued a vaccine and testing mandate for all K-12 school staff. 

WATCH MORE ABC10: Gov. Newsom announces schools vaccine mandate

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