Former State Health Directors to UNC System President: Time to mandate COVID-19 vaccination at UNC schools

Former State Health Directors of North Carolina reached out to UNC System Peter Hans this week to urge a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all students, faculty and staff at UNC System schools.

Citing rising infection numbers and the spread of the virus’s Delta variant, the former directors said the university system must go further than its current plans to protect student and their communities.

“The current UNC System policy allows students and employees to opt out of COVID 19 vaccination and enter a regular testing program,” the former directors wrote in an email to Hans Thursday. “This policy is not strong enough.”

“There is enormous risk that without a mandate for COVID 19 vaccination, the burden of new cases and hospitalizations will overwhelm the University campuses’ abilities to quarantine and isolate cases effectively,” the former directors wrote. “It will be horrific should a death of a student, staff or faculty member occur that could have been prevented by mandatory vaccination.”

In a Thursday message to chancellors  Hans laid out a plan that would not go quite that far.

UNC System President Peter Hans

While not requiring a mandate, Hans’s message to chancellors said they should have their campuses require students to submit to reentry testing, provide proof of vaccination or, if unvaccinated, undergo weekly testing. Chancellors should also have a “get vaccinated or get tested regularly” measure in place for faculty and staff, Hans wrote.

“Vaccination is our best weapon against the virus,” Hans wrote in his e-mail to chancellors. “Vaccines are safe, free, and highly effective against all known variants. Since the vaccine became available last spring, you have made extraordinary efforts to vaccinate both your campus communities and the general public, administering more than 92,000 vaccinations at clinics across the state. We will continue to offer free, life-saving vaccines to students, faculty, and staff on campus, and we will continue to encourage and incentivize every eligible person to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The question of mandating — or even encouraging — vaccination has become highly politicized. In a recent video making the rounds online this week, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson told a crowd at a conservative event it is not the job of elected officials to encourage people to take a vaccine and that those doing so should be voted out of office.

The most powerful elected GOP leaders in the state — N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore- (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) — are among the prominent Republicans in North Carolina who have encouraged vaccination as the best method of beating COVID-19.

Read the full message from former N.C. health directors to Hans below:

 

August 5, 2021

Peter Hans, President

University of North Carolina System

PO Box 2688

910 Raleigh Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27514

As former State Health Directors of North Carolina, we urge you to mandate COVID 19 vaccination of all students, faculty, and staff at UNC higher educational institutions to help assure a safer return to campuses this fall.

Nationally other state institutions of higher education have done this successfully as have private universities in our own state. Students, faculty and staff at our own UNC System deserve this same level of protection

The reasons are clear.

COVID-19 infections are dangerous and on the rise in our state.
COVID-19 vaccines work, are safe and readily available. These vaccines save lives. They prevent serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The only way to end the pandemic and return to effective campus life and assure educational success is through vaccination. A mandate is the most effective strategy to assure that faculty, staff, and students are vaccinated.

The current UNC System policy allows students and employees to opt out of COVID 19 vaccination and enter a regular testing program. This policy is not strong enough.

There is enormous risk that without a mandate for COVID 19 vaccination, the burden of new cases and hospitalizations will overwhelm the University campuses’ abilities to quarantine and isolate cases effectively. It will be horrific should a death of a student, staff or faculty member occur that could have been prevented by mandatory vaccination.

If University leadership is willing to assume these risks with its currently planned policy, we recommend that the University System publicly commit to enacting a COVID vaccination mandate for its campuses as soon as the FDA acts to fully license the available COVID vaccines.

Such a clear, proactive and transparent commitment by University System leadership in response to COVID 19 will save lives.

Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH

Jeff Engel, MD

Laura Gerald, MD, MPH

Ron Levine, MD

Penny Slade Sawyer, PT, MSW

Hugh Tilson, Sr. MD, DrPH

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