NC Commission for Public Health to take up requiring COVID vaccine for students 17 and up

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2021 file photo, a syringe is prepared with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at the Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pa. Businesses that have announced vaccine mandates say some workers who had been on the fence have since gotten inoculated against COVID-19. But many holdouts remain — a likely sign of what is to come once a federal mandate goes into effect. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

RALEIGH — Students ages 17 and up could be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend secondary schools in the state, depending on the actions of a state commission.  

The N.C. Commission for Public Health (NCCPH) is the body considering such a move. The commission is housed under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and is the only body other than the legislature that can amend vaccination laws for students in the state. It is a 13-member body, nine of which have been appointed Gov. Roy Cooper. The other four were appointed by the N.C. Medical Society. 

During its meeting held on Nov. 3, 2021, the NCCPH addressed a “petition” that had been entered into the rulemaking process for NCCPH. Chairman Ronald May did not cite the topic of the petition but said they were reviewing it. At that meeting, May said they have 120 days before they would need to make any decisions and that “very likely at the next meeting” the commission would act. 

North State Journal inquired with NCDHHS about the unnamed petition and discovered it was sent to State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson last October. 

The petition, submitted by four professors from Appalachian State University (ASU), requested that the “Commission for Public Health issue a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all NC college students.” 

The quartet’s petition proposes changing state immunization requirements to include COVID-19 vaccinations for “individuals 17 years of age or entering the 12th grade, whichever comes first, on or after July 1, 2022.” 

The ASU professors who submitted the request include Stella Anderson, with the Department of Management; Nancy Love, with the Department of Government and Justice Studies; Martha McCaughey, from the Sociology Department; and Emily Dakin, from the Department of Social Work. 

Dakin was the first signatory on an open letter published on Aug. 23, 2021, pushing for remote instruction at the collegiate level until the county where ASU is located reached a less than 5% positivity rate and at least 70% of ASU students were vaccinated. The letter garnered 233 signatures from ASU staff and faculty. 

Citing various Food and Drug Administration approvals for children 16 and up, the petition says, “the Commission should consider the COVID-19 vaccine age-based requirement with existing approval and, as additional approval is granted, expand the requirement for those ages.” 

The petition goes on to say the “proposed implementation date (July 1, 2022) would accommodate the existing age-based FDA approval without requiring current high-school-aged students to comply.” 

A letter attached to the petition is signed by 225 UNC system employees, the vast majority of which are affiliated with ASU. Both Cooper and then-NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen were copied on the letter.  

The letter cites state law and the authority of the NCCPH to alter vaccination requirements for students in North Carolina. 

“In short, our call for the Commission to require COVID-19 vaccination among NC college and university students is supported by overwhelming evidence, precedence, law, and the authority of the Commission itself,” the letter to NCCPH reads. “Thus, we respectfully request that the Commission issue an order declaring that the COVID-19 vaccine be required of all college students attending NC colleges and universities.” 

One individual that signed the letter who did not list a college or university affiliation is Dante Strobino of “UE Local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union.” He was one of several individuals linked to the Communist Workers World Party who were arrested in connection with the destruction of a Confederate statute in Durham during 2017. His case was dismissed but he had been charged with injury to real property, defacing a public building or monument, and conspiracy to deface a public building or monument. 

This is not the first time the NCCPH has discussed making COVID-19 vaccines a legal requirement to attend schools in the state.  

In August of 2021, the NCCPH members had entertained, but then tabled, the idea of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for K-12 students across the state.  

The commission met again virtually on Oct. 15 at which time some members joked about what they referred to as anti-vax and mask “rhetoric,” which was captured on audio obtained exclusively by North State Journal. 

The next meeting of the NCCPH is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 2, 2022. 


About A.P. Dillon 1130 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_