RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State lawmakers voted Monday to block Gov. Roy Cooper (D) from issuing a mandate for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine through an executive order even though Cooper has never advocated for taking such a step.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 75-38 on a bill that would prevent Cooper from using his emergency powers to require vaccinations for COVID-19 or from penalizing people who choose not to get the vaccine. It now goes to the Senate.
“The governor has no plans to mandate vaccines and this legislation jeopardizes our work by politicizing public health and sowing unjustifiable doubts about all vaccines. Vaccines are among our best tools for ending this pandemic and legislators should focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated,” said Dory MacMillan, spokesperson for Cooper.
The move comes as the pace of vaccinations has slowed significantly in recent weeks, based on data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. As of Monday, about 50.6 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Cooper has set a goal of two-thirds of adults being partially vaccinated before he’ll lift the indoor mask mandate.
Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort/Craven) who has backed the bill said it’s about “taking away that overreach that we’ve seen in the past year on some of these issues, and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen with vaccinations.”
When asked why he was pursuing the issue when Cooper has never suggested mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, Kidwell said, “Well, it’s always the right time to do the right thing. So, I’m going to go with that. The other thing that I’m concerned with is nobody thought the governor would close our churches and yet he did that.”
The bill Kidwell sponsored also would prevent public health officials and licensing agencies from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of getting a license.
“This bill is silly. We may as well be passing a bill to ban the sale of unicorns because no one has proposed anything like what the bill sponsors are talking about,” said Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange/Caswell).
Last week, hundreds of people rallied at the General Assembly calling for a different bill to pass that also seeks to block Cooper from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations but would go further by prohibiting mandatory vaccines more broadly. That bill has not been heard by a committee.
Meyer said he’s concerned about the potential impact of these bills on people’s willingness to get vaccinated who may be hesitant.
Data from the state shows on the week of Apr. 5, state and federal providers administered about 336,000 first doses. That dropped to about 102,000 the week of Apr. 26.
“Some Republicans want to play on your fear rather than leading and helping us come out of the pandemic in a strong and unified way,” he said. “All of the rhetoric that drives vaccine fear, including this bill, does make people stay away from getting the vaccine.”
Kidwell pushed back on that.
“This bill does not tell people don’t get a vaccine,” he said. “Whether or not you get a vaccination is between you and your physician.”