Republican-sponsored legislation that would require parental consent for 12- to 17-year-olds to get a COVID-19 vaccine has cleared its final Senate committee step.
The Senate Rules and Operations committee approved House Bill 96 in a brief meeting Monday.
The bill is on the Senate floor calendar for the session scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, although it is likely to be delayed until late afternoon or early evening.
If the bill is approved by the Senate, it will return to the House. Members can choose to accept the Senate addition of the parental consent language or reject it.
The Rules committee discussed the main element of the initial legislation — a bipartisan proposal to expand the number of vaccines and medications that pharmacists would be allowed to administer.
That would include COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration, along with nicotine replacement therapy medicine, self-administered oral and transdermal contraceptives, prenatal vitamins, HIV post-exposure prophylaxis, glucagon, testosterone and vitamin B12 injections.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, added 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.
Currently in North Carolina, 12- to 17-year-olds are allowed to decide for themselves on whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine under a state law that applies to medical services that prevent or treat communicable diseases.
The language inserted into HB96 says that “... 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 for the Pfizer vaccine 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.
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 30% of North Carolina's 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.
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 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, including parents who do not want 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,” he said.
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 required immunizations.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious diseases expert with Wake Forest Baptist Health, recommended in June that young people 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.