50% of NC adults are now vaccinated against COVID-19. A legislative spat showcases why getting more on board only gets harder from here.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced a significant milestone Thursday in ending the pandemic – more than 50% of adults (18 and older) in our state have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

More than 43% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated against the virus.

While those numbers are impressive, legislators in the House Health Committee demonstrated this morning just how difficult it will be to reach herd immunity.

Rep.Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) urged the committee to advance House Bill 572, prohibiting a vaccine mandate by executive order, rule or agency.

Rep.Keith Kidwell

“The government cannot force one to take an injection of any type into their body. It’s all about freedom people,” said Kidwell.

Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) said the bill was ‘unworkable’ making it difficult for the Governor, the Secretary of Public Safety and the State Health Director to make a decision in an emergency situation when they must also seek the concurrence of the Council of State.

“The governor has no say in what I put in my body,nor do any agencies or government entities,” Kidwell asserted. “We’re talking about the same language that I’ve heard so many times from people on the other side of the aisle, being it’s my body, it’s my choice.”

Rep. Insko tried again to explain the difference during a pandemic.

Rep. Verla Insko

“I want to have control of my body. But there are instances where I am a danger to other people. I do not have a right to make somebody sick. I do not have a right to spread a deadly germ. Someone has to take care of the community.”

Kidwell balked at her reasoning.

“If the you’ve had the vaccine, why do I need it? If the vaccine doesn’t work, and you’re still afraid of getting the bug, why do I need the vaccine? Because it’s not going to protect me, if it’s not going to protect you,” Kidwell argued.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke) voiced his own concerns.

“I’m trying to understand when the legislature is supposed to be involved. Is the emergency such as the pandemic an opportunity for the governor and for Sec. Cohen to rule by fiat?”

Rep. Gale Adcock (D-Wake) offered that the state does play a role in non-emergency times in mandating certain children’s vaccines.

“We’re under unusual times. We’re trying to do the best we can to make the right decisions quickly for our entire population, and I’ll leave it at that,” said Adcock.

Rep. Insko said it was wrong to think the governor would independently make a decision about mandating a vaccine.

“The governor would not be making that decision alone. But India is an example. We don’t want to have the kind of things here that are going on in India.”

Rep. Donny Lambeth, who co-chairs the health committee, said he appreciated the debate, but it should be a matter of choice.

Rep. Donny Lambeth

“I made the decision with my family to get the vaccination. I would make that decision again. That was a personal decsion,” Lambeth said. “I encourage you to support this [bill], give individuals the freedom to make that choice, but I also encourage you to think very hard about getting the vaccination.”

House Bill 572 passed on a voice vote, and advances to the Rules Committee.

Kidwell is also sponsoring a separate bill [House Bill 580] that would make it unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire a prospective employee if the employee refused to get a vaccine or provide proof of vaccination.

For his part, Governor Roy Cooper toured a vaccine clinic in New Hanover County Thursday, focusing on education to combat vaccine hesitancy.

“The more we encourage our loved ones to get their vaccine, the sooner we can safely do all the things we want to do,” said Cooper.

North Carolina has set a goal of getting get two-thirds of adults vaccinated with at least one shot in order to lift the indoor mask mandate and ease other public health recommendations.

COVID-19 has claimed 12,738 lives in North Carolina since the beginning of the pandemic.

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