NC school district planning vaccinations of students ahead of 2021-22 school year

Novant Health, Inc. cited in a local report claims 12 to 17-year-olds won't need parental or guardian consent.

A likely heated debate about COVID-19 vaccinations for children is beginning in North Carolina, as evidenced by news coming out of at least one of the state’s school districts.

On May 4, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they expect to approve the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for national use on children ages 12 to 15, possibly as early as mid-May. Locally, Duke University Health System is currently conducting clinical trials for use with children ages 5 to 11.

While the FDA has approved the current vaccines that are in use, they are still experimental. FDA has yet to fully approve or license a COVID-19 vaccine.

On the heels of the FDA’s announcement, Journal Now has reported that Winston Salem/Forsyth school officials are planning to have students vaccinated prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year. County health officials and Novant Health, Inc. are cited as working with the district to make child vaccinations that happen - possibly without consent from the parents:

It is unclear which state law Novant is referring to that would allow for minor children to be given an experimental vaccination without parental or guardian consent. The only mention of dropping parental or guardian consent in the North Carolina statutes on Communicable Diseases is that of an “unemancipated minor” being tested for AIDS virus infection (130A-148 (h)) or a minor who has been sexually abused.

Statute 130A-153(d) clearly states parental or guardian consent for immunizations is required.

Novant could be referring to G.S. 90-21.5., Minor's consent sufficient for certain medical health services, however, that is not part of the Communicable Disease statutes.

What vaccinations are in state law?

North Carolina G.S. 130A-152 does not include COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement for children entering the public school system. Currently, that statute only requires vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, red measles (rubeola), and rubella, however, it does mention that a state commission could impose changes.

G.S. 130A-152 (Part 2):

Statute Vagueness and a Commission

“In addition, every child present in this State shall be immunized against any other disease upon a determination by the Commission that the immunization is in the interest of the public health,” G.S. 130A-152 reads.

The Commission referred to is an arm of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services known as the NC Commission for Public Health (Commission). The Commission has 13 members, nine are appointed by the governor and four by the North Carolina Medical Society.

The Commission’s website states that they are “the public health rulemaking body for North Carolina” and that they are “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 rules for the Commission deal mainly with sewage and sanitation, but one rule, number seven, is very vague and just says, “Establishing statewide health outcome objectives and delivery standards.”

The vagueness of the authority powers of the Commission combined with a lack of clarity in overlapping state statutes is likely to become a flashpoint for vaccinations.

Two bills have already been filed at the legislature to ban mandatory or forced vaccinations as well as blocking the creation of “vaccine passports.”

HB 572, titled No Vaccine Mandate by EO, Rule, or Agency, was filed on April 14 and has been moving quickly through the House. The bill would block the governor from using emergency powers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations and also prohibits state public health authorities and licensing agencies from imposing a similar mandate. 

An earlier bill, HB 558, had similar goals but appears to be dead in committee.

The idea that mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccine passports might become a reality sparked protest at the General Assembly. On May 4, hundreds of protesters stood outside of the legislature demanding that HB 558 be heard and chanting “we do not consent.”

Useful references:

NC General Statutes Article 6 - Communicable Diseases

NC Commission for Public Health