RALEIGH — On Oct. 20, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention committee voted unanimously, 15-0, to add a COVID vaccination series to the 2023 immunization schedules for adults and children.
The schedule changes approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) call for children to begin getting Pfizer and Moderna’s primary two-dose series starting when they are 6 months old.
ACIP passed the measure with little discussion and despite some 33,000 comments filed by the public ahead of the meeting.
“A CDC committee of unelected bureaucrats voted unanimously to add the COVID vaxx to the childhood immunization schedule,” tweeted Republican Congressman Dan Bishop (NC-09). “This decision paves the way for vaccine mandates for children to attend schools, sports, and daycares across the country. Shameful.”
Bishop also tweeted: “It’s important to note that state legislatures have the power to reject these CDC guidelines and ensure that parents can make the best health decisions for their own children. I hope that they take action.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) also issued a statement opposing the move.
“COVID-19 vaccines delivered through Operation Warp Speed helped save lives at the outset of the pandemic. However, I oppose the CDC adding this experimental vaccine to the immunization schedule for children who face extremely low risk of danger from COVID-19,” Hudson said. “Just as I have led opposition to COVID vaccine mandates for the military, I will oppose states and districts imposing mandates on children in our schools following today’s vote. As the CDC makes a final determination, the agency must come before Congress and explain its decision to the American people.”
“ACIP’s recommendation to add COVID-19 vaccines to the routinely recommended vaccine schedule represents another step in the nation’s recovery,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statement on the ACIP vote.
The statement also said, “there are no changes in COVID-19 vaccine policy” and ACIP’s actions “simply helps streamline clinical guidance for healthcare providers by including all currently licensed, authorized and routinely recommended vaccines in one document.”
The ACIP vote follows news that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky came down with COVID-19 just a month after she publicly celebrated receiving a booster shot.
Only a few COVID vaccines are authorized for children under the age of 18. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines are still under emergency use authorization for kids under the age of 12 and do not have full FDA approval, and Moderna’s only fully approved shot is for persons 18 and older. Only the Pfizer BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine was fully FDA approved late last year for people 12 and up. Comirnaty is the brand name given to the same vaccine already in use.
According to the statement, the CDC “only makes recommendations for use of vaccines, while school-entry vaccination requirements are determined by state or local jurisdictions.”
Data tracked by the National Academy of State Health Policy shows that 21 states have banned COVID vaccine mandates for school-aged children. Only California and the District of Columbia have COVID vaccine mandates in place, and both mandates have been subject to legal challenges.
In North Carolina, the N.C. Commission for Public Health (NCCPH) is the body responsible for altering immunization requirements for children to attend public school.
The NCCPH falls under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). The members serve four-year terms with four members appointed by the N.C. Medical Society and nine appointed by the governor. All of the gubernatorial appointees currently on the board were either appointed or reappointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Most of the commission members have some medical or relevant experience, but one does not: Greg Hatem, a real estate developer. Hatem, a Democrat, has given the maximum donation to Cooper’s gubernatorial campaigns. Including Hatem, six of the 13 commission members have given donations to Cooper.
The last time changes were made for K-12 immunizations by the NCCPH was in 2014 by making updates conforming to CDC guidelines related to Pneumococcal Conjugate, Varicella and Meningococcal vaccines. However, over the last year, the NCCPH has discussed adding COVID vaccines to the list of required immunizations for college and K-12 students ages 17 and up.
The topic was first brought up in August 2021 but was tabled. The commission met again virtually on Oct. 15, at which time certain members joked about what they referred to as “anti-vaxxers” and mask “rhetoric.”
During the meeting held Nov. 3, 2021, the NCCPH’s Chair Ronald May referenced a “petition” submitted to the rulemaking process and May said it would be addressed at their next meeting. The petition had been sent to NCDHHS’ State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson the month prior, in October.
North State Journal identified the unnamed petition and discovered it was submitted by four professors from Appalachian State University (ASU) and requested the NCCPH “issue a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all NC college students” starting with 17-year-olds.
The ASU petition was brought up and voted on at a February 2022 meeting. During that meeting, member Dr. Doug Sheets said he had contacted the medical society and that “the feeling” of their board of directors was they “could not currently support any COVID vaccine mandate for minors.”
Two members of the NCCPH spoke out in favor of denying the petition prior to the vote, citing personal freedoms as well as adverse reactions to the vaccines and a lack of long-term studies on the effects of the vaccines in children.
“I think that based on the fact there is an especially high incidence of adverse effects in children and adolescents — particularly myocarditis and those type things — that we would really be making a not wise choice to require the least affected population of this country, which would be students … adolescents and children … to have the most stringent requirement,” said Dr. Gene Minton, who added he is a strong proponent of vaccinations but that they should not be requiring it of those who least need it.
Dr. Michael Riccobene also said he favored personal freedoms, that he had chosen not to vaccinate his children, and said he felt “every parent and adult should have the right to choose whether or not they receive the COVID vaccine. I do not think it is in the best interest of the public to take away that right.”
Riccobene and Minton are the only two Republicans currently serving on the NCCPH.
The NCCPH tapped the brakes and ultimately voted unanimously to deny the petition. There had also been public pushback leading up to the vote and the commission also received a letter from NCDHHS calling the possible changes “premature.”
“With information about vaccine doses and booster scheduling still evolving, we believe it is premature for the Commission to codify the immunization schedule through rulemaking. The Commission could consider adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule at a later date,” stated the letter signed by Assistant NCDHHS Secretary Mark Benton and Dr. Kelly Kimple, chief of the NCDHHS women’s and children’s health section.
If and when the NCCPH acts to add a COVID vaccine to childhood immunizations in North Carolina, state statute says 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.”
NCCPH’s next meeting is Nov. 2. Meeting details can be found at: https://cph.dph.ncdhhs.gov/