On Wednesday, July 14, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law House Bill 244, which includes language that prohibits K-12 schools and public universities from requiring students to get inoculated with vaccines that don’t have full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
All three of the COVID-19 vaccines currently used in the U.S. were given only Emergency Use Authorizations in order to get them in circulation and help slow the progress of the pandemic. This method of approval has been used for other pandemic-potential illnesses, including testing for the Ebola virus in 2014 and the Zika virus in 2017 as well as antivirals used to combat the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
While the vaccines haven’t been fully approved, the CDC and the FDA have been closely monitoring the vaccines’ impacts and taking necessary steps when issues arise, including halting use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when multiple instances of blood clots were reported by patients.
Part of the language of House Bill 244 was designed to prevent discrimination against those who choose not to get vaccinated, which according to a piece in the Ohio Capital Journal, would include infection control provisions such as masks and social distancing. Ohio University currently requires students and employees to either provide proof of full vaccination or be tested weekly for infection, and those who remain unvaccinated must continue to to follow the Presidential Health Directives regarding face coverings and social distancing.
“We will continue with our Pathways Program and require testing, masks and distance until the law goes into effect,” said Dr. Gillian Ice, Ohio University’s top public health official and a professor in social medicine at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. “At that time, if the COVID vaccines have not been fully FDA approved, we will transition to a modify our approach.”
Most public universities around the state — including OU, Hocking College and Ohio State University — have not yet required student COVID-19 vaccinations before the fall 2021 semester. However, Cleveland State University is going forward with its vaccine mandate, since the law doesn’t go into effect until October 13, months after their semester begins.
Private universities across the state are requiring vaccination, including Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. These universities are offering exceptions to students for medical and religious exemptions.
When asked about schools requiring vaccines for student and teachers this upcoming semester at a press conference on Friday, DeWine stated that the schools had every right to do so.
Vaccination as a condition for public eduction is not a new phenomenon; students in Ohio must be vaccinated against many illnesses — including measles, polio and diphtheria — in order to attend public school. The Ohio Department of Health’s website states that these vaccines are necessary “to reduce and eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases among Ohio’s children, adolescents and adults.”
Exemptions may be granted for religious convictions or other reasons of conscience, if the immunization is not medically appropriate for the age of the child or, in the case of the flu vaccine, there are no seasonal vaccines available.
Vaccination rates for Ohio children have remained fairly steady from 2010 through 2017, according to the ODH website.
The COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be fully authorized by the end of the year. Once that milestone is reached, schools will be able to require the vaccine for students.
Both Pfizer and Moderna had already submitted applications for full approval of the vaccines, mostly recently on June 1. The FDA has 60 days to check the application for completeness and assigned it a review class. If the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines receive the highest priority review, a decision could be reached within six months, giving full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine by January 2022 and Moderna’s by the following month.