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San Diego Unified to Require Covid-19 Vaccines

NEWS RELEASE: San Diego Unified to Require Covid-19 Vaccines for Age-Eligible Students and Staff
Posted on 09/29/2021

New Covid-19 vaccine initiative to help protect schools, families and community from virus


SAN DIEGO – To protect schools and the community from Covid-19, San Diego Unified School District staff and students, ages 16 and up, will be required to be fully vaccinated against the virus, under an initiative unanimously approved by the Board of Education on Tuesday evening.

The vaccine requirement follows similar policies implemented in districts across the state, including the Los Angeles Unified and Oakland school districts, and comes as the spread of Covid-19 continues to raise concerns among health professionals, educators, and families.  

“As a district, we are obligated to make our schools as safe as possible for the students we are trusted to care for and educate, as well as for our dedicated educators and staff members,” said Board President Richard Barrera. “The science is clear. Vaccines are absolutely essential when it comes to protecting students and staff, and the whole community, against Covid-19.”

Many students in San Diego Unified have been eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines for several months, but many have not, due to lack of access, among other reasons. 

“Anything we can do to increase the pool of vaccinated individuals will benefit our schools and our entire community as we continue to fight this virus,” said district pediatrician Dr. Howard Taras, who is a professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego. “Vaccines are our best defense against Covid-19.”   

State Senator and pediatrician Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, said the notion that kids are not impacted by Covid-19 is false. 

“There is a myth out there that children are not affected by Covid. We know that’s not true. Over 500 children have died of Covid in the United States,” Dr. Pan said. 

Dr. Pan commended the school board for considering the mandate, and said its passage will ultimately allow more students to maintain attendance in the classroom.  

“What we need to do is have a safe school environment so kids can stay in school and get educated, and a vaccine mandate or requirement for staying in school is very important to being able to achieve that goal,” Dr. Pan said.      

The timeline to receive full Covid-19 vaccinations will be based on age groups, aligned with full FDA approval. Currently, the FDA has fully approved vaccinations for children ages 16 and older. Because of that, for those 16 and older who have not yet been vaccinated, San Diego Unified has set a schedule requiring a first Covid-19 vaccination by November 29 and a second dose by December 20.

Students 16 and older who are not fully vaccinated by December 20 would not be permitted to participate in on-site education and would instead be offered an alternative education program.

The FDA has given emergency approval for Covid vaccinations to be administered in the 12-15 age group. San Diego Unified recommends the vaccine for that group, although it won’t be required until full FDA approval is granted. Currently, more than 64 percent of San Diego Unified students 12 and older have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and more than 57 percent are fully vaccinated.

Strong scientific evidence has shown that vaccinations are an essential part of protecting our communities as we move forward:

  • Vaccines are fully approved by the FDA only once an extremely high level of confidence is achieved that effectiveness and benefits clearly outweigh known or potential risks.

  • Vaccines are the most preventive of all strategies. Unlike masking, ventilation, and testing, vaccination protects students before the virus is introduced into the setting, reducing disease and new mutations.

  • Vaccines protect unvaccinated family members and other adults who have and haven’t been vaccinated.

  • School-age children get sick and contribute to new infections. They are the greatest proportion of unvaccinated in the U.S. More children have been hospitalized recently than any previous time during the pandemic.

San Diego Unified’s vaccine mandate would require all staff members to get vaccinated, unless they have a bonafide medical or religious exemption. The majority of district staff, an estimated 76 percent, has been fully vaccinated under a district initiative that went into effect earlier this year. The District will bargain any required impacts and effects related to this vaccine mandate with the labor unions. 

San Diego Unified is making its largest investment, nearly $3 billion, in safety, student success and classrooms this year, a 14 percent increase per-student from a year ago. More information about this investment and the safety measures already in place are in the new Back to School Guide and Frequently Asked Questions

To reduce the possibility of Covid-19 transmission at schools, the district has already adopted a wide range of measures that include: 

  • Upgraded HVAC filtration from MERV 8 to a MERV 13 (or portable HEPA filtered device), meeting or exceeding current requirement

  • Portable air purifiers for areas not adequately served by a MERV /HVAC or other ventilation system.  

  • Face masks required indoors and outdoors at all times, except when students are eating (and in some circumstances when participating in some exertive physical activities and performing arts) with nearly 1 million masks distributed to schools since reopening in April

  • Handwashing stations and cleaning wipes in multiple location

  • A particulate sensor and CO2 monitor at each site for monitoring the school’s indoor air quality

  • Electrostatic disinfectant sprayers for cleaning school buses

  • Protocols in place for contact tracing, should it be necessary

  • An up-to-date COVID dashboard on our website


Families and staff will receive information on how and where to get free vaccines. A Covid-19 safety forum will be held via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 30, giving families a chance to hear from health experts and ask questions. Sponsored by San Diego Unified’s Family Engagement Department, the event will be moderated by Californians for Safe Schools. Interpretation services will be available, beginning at 5:15 p.m. More information is available on the school district website.