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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) -California will become the first U.S. state to mandate statewide COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren as early as January, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks after the polls close on the recall election, at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento, California, U.S., aciclovir posologie herpes labial September 14, 2021. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

But first the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must fully approve inoculations for their age groups, he said.

The Democrat made the announcement at a news briefing as the United States crossed the grim threshold of 700,000 COVID-19 deaths, a Reuters tally showed.

The country has reported an average of more than 2,000 deaths per day over the past week, which represents about 60% of the peak in fatalities in January, a Reuters analysis of public health data showed.

The United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, accounting for 19% and 14% of all reported infections and fatalities, according to the Reuters tally. Globally, the pandemic is set to surpass 5 million deaths.

While national hospitalization numbers have fallen in recent weeks, some states, especially in the south of the country, are bucking that trend to record big rises here, putting pressure on healthcare systems.

Amid a national surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant leading to serious illness and death mostly among unvaccinated people, several large school districts in California, the most populous U.S. state, already have mandated COVID-19 vaccines for some students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s largest, requires them for children over the age of 12, for whom the FDA has authorized their emergency use.

Public schools in San Diego will require vaccines for students over the age of 16 in December, and in Hoboken, New Jersey, students must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for the virus.

Newsom’s new policy would add COVID-19 to the list of ailments against which children must be vaccinated to attend public or private schools.

Public health officials say the state’s strict COVID-19 public health orders helped to slow the transmission of the virus in recent weeks.

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