A public health strategy meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be outlawed under a bill the state House is considering.
State and local governments, public schools, the community college system, and the UNC system would not be allowed to require workers, job applicants, or students to show proof that they were vaccinated for COVID-19. There are some limited exceptions, including for people working in federally-regulated health facilities.
Rep. Jon Hardister, a Guilford County Republican and a bill sponsor, said the state Department of Health and Human Services is not interested in a vaccine mandate.
“We’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said.
Opponents of House bill 98 said that with medical and religious exemptions people who shouldn’t take or don’t want the shots are able to opt out of vaccine requirements.
Having vaccinated public employees is a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to members of their communities, said Rep. Maria Cervania, a Wake County Democrat.
Rep. Larry Potts, a Lexington Republican and a senior chairman of the House Health Committee, said people shouldn’t have to justify why they won’t be vaccinated.
“I don’t have to explain why I don’t want the vaccine,” he said. “If I don’t want it, I don’t want it.”
The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, with some voting against it.
Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Republicans clashed repeatedly over COVID-19 public health measures in the height of the pandemic, with Republicans passing bills to open bars and various sports and entertainment venues and Cooper vetoing those bills.
When the highly-contagious COVID-19 delta variant was spreading in 2021, Cooper, a Democrat, began requiring workers in Cabinet agencies to be vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests.
A 2021 House bill would have prevented schools, governments, hospitals, or childcare centers from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. That bill did not move out of committee.
About 78% of state employees who were subject to the vaccine-or-testing requirement received shots by early May 2022, according to information complied by the Office of State Human Resources. Compliance varied widely. Almost everyone in Cooper’s office was vaccinated, while 67% of Department of Transportation employees were vaccinated before the requirement for weekly testing of unvaccinated employees was lifted in May 2022 for most agencies.
Through May 9, 2022, state Human Resources office recorded 52 people having lost their jobs for not complying with the vaccine-or-testing requirement.
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