A North Carolina House bill has established new rules for children seeking to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
House Bill 96 mandates that all NC residents under the age of 18 must obtain signed parental approval before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at pharmacies across the state. It passed in August with support from the majority-Republican House of Representatives and Senate and from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
The bill was introduced by Republican senator Jim Burgin and sponsored by Wayne Sasser, also a Republican. It overrides a previous state law that would give minors the ability to receive health treatment such as administration of the COVID-19 vaccine if they showed the decisional capacity to do so.
As of Oct. 13, 357,993 people between the ages of 12 and 17 had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine—approximately 45% of people in that age group.
The bill also permits pharmacists to administer an increased amount of injectable medications, such as FDA-approved vaccines, nicotine cessation treatments, contraceptives, testosterone and anti-opioid drugs. This expands access to healthcare, particularly in counties without the appropriate pediatricians, family physicians and psychiatrists originally required to administer vaccines.
In an interview with The Chronicle, Sasser said that "without any question, what we're trying to accomplish is to make healthcare more accessible to the patient."
“We have counties that don't have hospitals or healthcare facilities, but every county has a drugstore,” he said, outlining how the expansion of pharmacist responsibilities will increase healthcare access.
When asked about the widespread concern of limiting access to the vaccine for teenagers, Sasser said that the bill will not prevent a person under 18 from getting the vaccine without parental permission, but instead they will have to go through the health department, referring to the fact that vaccines are administered to minors for emergency use in public health facilities. He also reasoned that most pharmacists would not feel comfortable giving a vaccine to a younger teen without parental permission.
HB 96, which passed with widespread bipartisan support, stayed primarily apolitical in contrast to the conflicts surrounding mask mandates and lockdowns.
"This bill stayed totally away from the political polarization of the whole COVID deal, and there were plenty of stakeholders and compromises,” Sasser said. “It was about getting healthcare out to the patients and making it more accessible.”
Sasser said that ultimately HB 96 reflects the pragmatic and bipartisan approach taken by the legislature towards healthcare, since "just throwing billions of dollars against the wall will not solve the problems" the state faces. Healthcare legislation such as House Bill 96 are intended so that "everybody gives up a little bit and the patient wins," he said.
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