Former NC health directors urge UNC System schools to mandate vaccines

COVID-19 and schools

RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) — Six former North Carolina health directors sent a letter to the UNC System, which encompasses 16 universities statewide.

They’re calling for system-wide changes to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory before students come back.

Dr. Jeff Engel served as the state health director from 2009 to 2012.

He says he’s concerned that variants, like delta, or even worse could develop if more people don’t get vaccinated soon.

“That will be a nightmare. That will put us back to where we were in March 2020,” Engel said.

North Carolina State University student Gracie Brittian said she feels it’s worth it to get the vaccine or mandate testing if it means keeping in-person classes.

“I just want to go back to a normal year and everything like that and I think it’s very important for people to get tested that way there’s not the spread like there was last year where everyone gets sent home,” Brittian said.

In a letter sent this week, former state health directors say voluntary vaccinations with a testing option won’t stop the spread as tens of thousands of students come back in person across the state.

“We understand that the vaccine is not fully licensed by the FDA yet but we understand that and would ask that the UNC System would consider at once the vaccine is fully licensed,” Engel said.

But UNC System chiefs of staff said in an April letter that it’s unclear if the state schools have the legal authority to mandate additional immunizations for all students.

The former state health directors point to other public state institutions and private schools mandating vaccines, saying the UNC System could follow suit.

“I think that they should move ahead now and legally they can,” Engel said. “So there’s very little difference between an emergency use authorization and a licensed product.”

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