RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Though COVID-19 cases are rising again, Republican state legislative leaders say they do not support requiring the vaccine as college students prepare to return to campuses across the state.
Some private universities in North Carolina will require the vaccine, such as Duke, Shaw and Wake Forest, with exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
In Virginia, public colleges are also requiring the vaccine. However, at schools that are part of the UNC system, the vaccine is being encouraged but not mandated.
A spokesman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said Monday while Berger got the vaccine himself and encourages others to do so, it should remain the choice of the individual. He added “it’s not government’s role to compel people” to get it.
“Remember, this vaccine is still approved only for emergency use, and younger people face a much, much lower risk from COVID,” spokesman Pat Ryan wrote in an email.
Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake County) said with the Delta variant spreading, he thinks it’s time for the state to require the vaccine on college campuses. He did not advocate for requiring it in any other settings or for children in K-12 schools.
“As we continue to see how the numbers are moving, it’s an important place that public policymakers should be looking. The vaccine is safe. It’s effective. It’s free. And, the data is undeniable,” he said. “Keeping folks safe all over the UNC system, the best way we can do that is making sure folks have the vaccine.”
UNC system administrators have said they don’t have the legal authority to mandate the vaccine. They say it would take either an act of the General Assembly or the state’s Commission for Public Health.
Of the commission’s 13 members, the North Carolina Medical Society elects four of them while the governor chooses the other nine.
Chip Baggett, CEO and executive vice president of the medical society, said his group does not support a mandate to get the vaccine, as it could lead to further misinformation spreading about it.
“We really prefer a one-on-one conversation with people’s individual physicians to get the best uptake,” he said. “We’re really down to the population of people that need to have a conversation with their physician. They need to have accurate and correct information presented to them in order to make the best decision.”
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has not advocated for requiring the vaccine.
In an email, Mary Scott Winstead, a spokesperson for Cooper, wrote, “The Governor and state health officials strongly urge everyone eligible to get vaccinated, especially since the disease can spread quickly in college dorms and apartments. State health officials will continue to urge students and employees at the UNC system and other schools to get vaccinated.”
As of Monday, 59 percent of the state’s adult population is partially vaccinated, while 56 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. The state lags behind the nation as a whole.
About 68 percent of adults in the United States have received at least one dose, while almost 60 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.