RALEIGH — Whether K-12 students in North Carolina will be compelled to get a COVID-19 vaccination or not lies in the hands of the 13 members of the N.C. Public Health Commission.
Per state statutes, the N.C. Commission on Public Health (NCCPH), which falls under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), has the authority to add immunizations to the list of those already in state law for K-12 students.
Statutes on immunizations also say that if and when the NCCPH requires a new immunization to be added, or an additional dose of a vaccine, NCCPH is “authorized to exempt from the new requirement children who are or who have been enrolled in school (K-12) on or before the effective date of the new requirement.”
2014 was the last time changes were made for K-12 immunizations by the NCCPH. At that time, updates conforming to Centers for Disease Control guidelines were made with specific attention paid to Pneumococcal Conjugate, Varicella and Meningococcal vaccines.
According to its website, the NCCPH is the “public health rulemaking body for North Carolina” and is “authorized and directed by the N.C. General Assembly to adopt rules to protect and promote the health of the public and to adopt rules necessary to implement public health programs administered by the Division of Public Health.”
The NCCPH was created by the General Assembly in 1877 and was originally named the State Board of Health. It was renamed once in 1973 and then became the Commission for Public Health in 2007. The commission has four members appointed by the N.C. Medical Society and nine by the governor. The members of the NCCPH serve four-year terms.
Per state law, in order to add a new immunization, only vaccines meeting the standards of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for use by the commission may be used.
On Monday, Aug. 23, the FDA approved the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 shot, but only for individuals 16 and older. The Emergency Usage Authorization remains in place for children ages 12 to 15. The approval did not include 12-to-14-year-old children, likely due to investigations into increasing reports of a heightened risk of serious side effects such as myocarditis and blood clots associated with mRNA shots. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA shots.
“The public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”
Shortly after the approval news was reported, Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted a Washington Post article about the FDA’s decision and promoted getting the shot.
The United States is the first to issue such an approval on a COVID vaccine and could embolden more governments, education institutions and businesses to issue vaccination edicts.
The Pfizer approval by the FDA comes on the heels of an Aug. 22 letter sent by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) to the directors of the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control which criticized expediting the approval process as a political move made in order to impose vaccinations.
“I see no need to rush the FDA approval process for any of the three Covid-19 vaccines,” wrote Johnson. “Expediting the process appears to only serve the political purpose of imposing and enforcing vaccine mandates.”
Johnson went on to write that the “observational phases of FDA approval take time, because there is no substitute for time in detecting and determining possible long-term harm. Additionally, we are already experiencing a severe health care worker shortage. Frontline doctors and nurses that are contacting me are expressing grave concerns about vaccine mandates which will only exacerbate the shortage.”
Protests have broken out during the last month over vaccine mandates in countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Greece and Germany. Similar protests have started to crop up in the United States; however, imposed masking has been the issue rather than vaccinations. With the FDA’s approval this week, those protests may change focus especially after at least one teen in Guilford County was vaccinated without parental consent.
Emily Happel, a mother of a student in Guilford County, reported that her 14-year-old son was given the COVID-19 vaccination without written parental consent just hours after Cooper signed a bill with such a requirement on Aug. 20.
House Bill 96 states that a health care provider “shall obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian prior to administering any vaccine that has been granted emergency use authorization and is not yet fully approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to an individual under 18 years of age.”
It would appear this provision in the new law has now been rendered moot with the approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
Happel told North State Journal that her son plays football for Western Guilford High School and that her son was required to get a COVID-19 test after it was learned some of the players had been exposed.
The family was issued a letter from the school ordering the test, which they took with them to the clinic being held at Northwest Guilford High School. The clinic was run by Old North State Medical Society in partnership with Guilford County Public Schools.
According to Happel, her son had to fill out a form which she admits he did not read; however, the staff at the clinic asked for his parent’s phone number. Happel missed the call and she was unable to get anyone to respond when she tried calling back just a few minutes later.
“My son told me that the lady who was helping him said they had tried to call his mother, but that she didn’t answer and said, ‘Let’s just give it to him anyway.’ I still had no idea that he was going to be getting a vaccine; I was still waiting for a test,” Happel told North State Journal.
Happel recounted that as the staffer came at her son with the injection, he told her he did not want it but “before he knew it, he had the shot in his arm.” She also said that the entire time, the staff did not ask once for the letter from the school directing a test and not a vaccination.
On the way home, her son pulled out the vaccination card and showed his father, who Happel said was “at a loss for words.”
“He came home. He handed me the card and I lost my mind,” said Happel. She contacted the school administrator and when she received a call back, the individual who contacted Happel dismissed her concerns and acted like it was “not a big deal” and compared it to her son getting an HIV test without parental consent.
“I was irate with this man,” said Happel. “He completely downplayed my feelings for what happened and that has pretty much been the end of it.”
Happel noted that the flyer for the clinic clearly states that minors under the age of 17 must have written parental consent to receive the vaccine.
It is unclear if any other teens who visited the clinic were vaccinated without consent. Guilford County Schools Media Relations Specialist Janson Silvers told North State Journal he was not aware of any other similar incidents.
Silvers said that “direct patient-doctor interactions” inquiries should be directed to Old North State Medical Society. North State Journal was unable to obtain a comment from Old North State Medical Society by press time.