RALEIGH — Action on a petition from university faculty asking for mandatory vaccines for college students would be premature, the state health department says. The petition asks for the implementation of COVID-19 jabs as an immunization requirement for all N.C. college students who are 17 years old or entering 12th grade.
The N.C. Commission for Public Health received the petition, sent by four staff and faculty members of Appalachian State University. The commission is set to meet Wednesday, Feb. 2, but the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services sent a memo urging the commission to hold off on further action regarding the request, which includes 237 signatures of staff and faculty affiliated with ASU, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, N.C. State, and UNC-Charlotte. A call requesting updates version of commission’s meeting agenda has not been returned as of press time, but an initial version was available earlier this week.
The faculty members say their request “is supported by overwhelming evidence, precedence, law, and the authority of the Commission itself.” Nine of the 13 members of the commission are appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, four are appointed by the N.C. Medical Society.
DHHS said it was “premature” to change the immunization schedule, citing the ever-evolving information surrounding COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. The commission could consider adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the childhood immunization schedule later, the health department says. Fifty-four percent of North Carolinians 18 to 24 are vaccinated, DHHS reports.
The petitioners expressed concerns over vaccination rates, despite a decrease in hospitalizations, and they highlight worries about another wave coming with new variants, including Omicron BA.2. But questions swirl about accuracy over the reporting of hospitalizations for patients with COVID, as opposed to people hospitalized because of COVID.
Hospitals aren’t required to publicly report how many patients are admitted with COVID as the primary diagnosis, and many health systems across the country, including North Carolina’s, do not monitor the breakdown nor track why patients needed to be hospitalized for COVID.
“It’s important to note that it is not always clear what role COVID may or may not play in someone needing hospitalization,” said Catie Armstrong, a DHHS spokeswoman told Carolina Journal earlier this month. “For example, COVID-related symptoms may be the primary reasons for hospitalizations or can worsen other health conditions (heart conditions, diabetes, breathing issues, etc.) and lead to hospitalizations that may not have been necessary without a COVID-19 diagnosis playing a role.”
Armstrong said the health department is working with hospital partners on options to better understand reasons for hospitalization among those with COVID.