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Vaccine parental consent bill set for final N.C. Senate committee vote
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Vaccine parental consent bill set for final N.C. Senate committee vote

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Republican-sponsored legislation that would require parental consent for 12- to 17-year-olds to get a COVID-19 vaccine is scheduled for the final state Senate committee step Monday.

The Senate Rules and Operations committee has House Bill 96 as the lone agenda item for its 5 p.m. meeting.

In North Carolina, 12- to 17-year-olds are allowed to decide for themselves on whether to get the Pfizer vaccine — the only one currently approved for that age group — under a state law that applies to medical services that prevent or treat communicable diseases.

If HB96 clears Rules, the bill could appear on the Senate floor for a vote this week.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, inserted the parental consent language into HB96 on July 21, fulfilling a pledge to constituents she made in June. Krawiec is a primary sponsor of Republican health-care legislation.

The language inserted into HB96 says that “notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, 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 Food and Drug Administration to an individual under 18 years of age.”

Young people who have been emancipated from their parents would be exempt from the provision.

Health-care analysts say the FDA could provide full authorization by as early as October and likely before January.

Infectious diseases experts say some unvaccinated adults also have been waiting for the full FDA authorization before getting the vaccine.

Vaccination push

The timing of HB96 going before Senate Rules is apt given the push to vaccinate more youths ages 12 to 17 as the highly infectious delta variant spreads in the Triad and statewide.

About 35% of Forsyth youths in that age range are fully vaccinated, according to county health director Joshua Swift, while about 30% are fully vaccinated statewide.

The 2021-22 school year begins in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools on Aug. 23, as well as several other Triad school districts.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has left it to individual school districts to decide whether to require universal masking or allow optional masking for the start of the school year.

However, Cooper and state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen have said they expect school districts — such as Davie County Schools — that choose optional masking to take care of the students’ health, or DHHS could step in to enforce masking.

Krawiec said in late June she was responding to constituents’ concern, particularly parents not wanting their children to get the vaccine.

“Parents should not have to worry that this might happen without their consent,” Krawiec said. “The vaccines … are only approved for emergency use authorization. Parents should make these decisions with their children and should not be excluded.”

Public health experts point out that all vaccines are required to undergo the same rigorous testing, whether they are approved for emergency use or through a typical license.

Cooper briefly discussed the revamped HB96 following a tour Thursday of the vaccination site for the Forsyth Department of Public Health.

Cooper said the inserted language “concerns me.”

“I will talk with our public-health officials and the legislature about that before we make any decisions.”

Background

There is no state public health or educational requirement for young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory committee on Immunization Practices recommended May 11 the use of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12 to 15 under the same FDA emergency use authorization approved April 7 for those ages 16 and older.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services was required to sign off on the federal recommendations — which it did on May 12 — before vaccine providers in North Carolina could proceed.

DHHS says the expectation is that, in most cases, parental consent is obtained for a COVID-19 vaccination for people under 18.

“However, teenagers can consent for themselves for COVID-19 vaccines, pursuant to N.C. General Statute 90-21.5, if they have the ability to understand and make decisions about their health. As part of normal development, most children are able to understand and make decisions about their health some point before the age of 18.”

State law does require K-12 students receive a series of immunizations, including boosters necessary before entering certain grade levels. That law does not include COVID-19 vaccinations.

Children who are home-schooled or attend public, private, charter or religious schools are required to be up-to-date with North Carolina-required vaccinations within 30 calendar days from the first day of school.

State law allows for medical and religious exemptions from school-required immunizations.

Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious diseases expert with Wake Forest Baptist Health, recommended in June that youths ages 12 to 17 needed to get their first vaccine dose by July 12 if they wanted to be fully vaccinated by the start of the school year.

The two Pfizer doses typically are given three weeks apart, with another two weeks necessary for immunity to occur.

“The advantages are that you won’t get COVID, even a variant, if you get both doses,” Ohl said.

“If you’re exposed to COVID, you won’t need to quarantine, which means no virtual learning. You won’t give it to other people, particularly vulnerable loved ones. You will be able to do things without the worry of getting COVID from other unvaccinated people.

“You can be a good citizen and help get the immunity levels up and slow down the variants’ spreading.”

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@rcraverWSJ

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