RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – While some private colleges and universities in North Carolina are requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in time for the fall semester, state leaders are urging vaccinations for those attending public schools but not pushing to mandate them.
“You’re talking about an emergency use authorized vaccine. And, to mandate that, people have to have that, I think is somewhat problematic,” said Republican Senate leader Phil Berger.
The UNC system is encouraging students, faculty, and staff to get the vaccine but not requiring it. System administrators have said they don’t believe they have the legal authority to do that, saying that would need to come from the General Assembly or the state’s Commission for Public Health.
Berger said no one from the UNC system has asked him for the legislature to grant that authority.
“I’m perfectly content to think that they have no authority to make that decision,” he said. “The more people that are vaccinated the better. But, I think that’s a decision people have to make in consultation with their health care provider.”
Duke and Shaw universities are requiring students to submit proof of vaccination.
Anthony Wadler, a student at Shaw, said he hadn’t planned to get the vaccine until he was told he must.
“I felt like I didn’t need it. I don’t get sick,” he said.
Tracy Glass, who also attends Shaw, said he was surprised the university required the vaccine.
“They were loosening up on masks and everything, so I thought (COVID) was out of the way,” he said. “But then I went and got (the vaccine) and it wasn’t as bad.”
As the delta variant spreads, North Carolina’s cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services noted Friday the number of people in the hospital due to COVID-19 doubled in the last two weeks, reaching a total of 817 people.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has been touring the state in recent weeks promoting vaccinations, most recently in Forsyth County on Thursday.
“A lot of people who are spreading lies about vaccinations have gotten one themselves,” he said. “This is going to happen person by person, call by call, shot by shot.”
Cooper has not signaled support for mandating students receive the vaccine before returning to school, though he is encouraging them to do so.
Mary Scott Winstead, a spokesperson for Cooper, said this week, “The Governor and state health officials strongly urge everyone eligible to get vaccinated, especially since the disease can spread quickly in college dorms and apartments. State health officials will continue to urge students and employees at the UNC system and other schools to get vaccinated.”
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the conservative John Locke Foundation, noted a variety of opinions within the university system on whether a mandate is needed and said he doubts one will come absent “a public outcry.”
“Because there is that mix of responses to it, it probably is not going to rise to the level of going to the General Assembly,” he said.