Mandating COVID vaccinations at schools is ‘problematic,’ top NC lawmaker says

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Now that there is no longer a state mandate on wearing masks in schools, attention is turning to increasing vaccinations for COVID-19.

The leader of the Republican-majority North Carolina Senate on Thursday called mandating vaccines right now for schools “problematic.”

Republicans in the state legislature had been pushing for decisions on masks in schools to be left up to school districts. A bill that passed the House, but not the Senate, would have changed it from a statewide mandate requiring masks in schools to a local decision.

On Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper changed course on the mask mandate in schools, telling reporters at a news conference that he would let the current executive order expire at the end of July.

Decisions for requiring masks in schools will be left up to local school districts, though N.C. Department of Health and Human Services strongly recommends requiring them in all kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, and masks for unvaccinated students and staff at high schools.

COVID vaccine available through emergency use

The COVID-19 vaccine is only available for people age 12 and older, which leaves out most elementary school students. Just 24% of children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, and more than half of adults in North Carolina are fully vaccinated, with 60% of adults receiving at least one dose.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters on the Senate floor after session Thursday that to mandate a vaccine available for emergency use is “somewhat problematic.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to grant final approval to the three COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — it authorized for emergency use.

“The conversation changes ... once you get final approval from the FDA for the vaccine,” Berger said.

Berger also said he doesn’t think that the UNC System ought to require vaccinations.

‘More people that are vaccinated, the better’

The General Assembly is about to take another summer break for about a week, returning to session Aug. 2. The Senate passed its version of the state budget in late June. The House will likely roll out its budget bill the second week in August.

“(Cooper’s) announcement yesterday on schools takes one thing off our plate,” Berger told reporters after the Senate session on Thursday. Because local school systems can now decide about requiring masks, the Senate has no need to take up the bill.

Berger, an Eden Republican, is vaccinated and also recorded a public service announcement with other state leaders, including Cooper, promoting vaccinations. But he doesn’t want to mandate it right now for schools.

“I’ve said all along that I felt like vaccination is a decision that I personally made as the right decision for me. I think the more people that are vaccinated, the better. But that’s a decision people need to make in consultation with their healthcare provider,” Berger said.

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