CHAPEL HILL — UNC System officials have faced consistent pressure from some faculty and students to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. But top leaders have not pushed for that, saying they don’t have the authority.
On Thursday, UNC System President Peter Hans defended the system’s position that it cannot legally require a COVID-19 vaccine. He would not say whether he would want to mandate vaccines for students and employees if he could.
“I think it’s best left in the hands of public health experts,” Hans said in a press conference.
President Joe Biden announced new COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for large private businesses and federal contractors last week. However, it’s unclear how that will affect colleges and universities, and more guidance is expected. The vaccine mandate could have more impact on large research universities where faculty and staff work with the federal government.
The Department of Labor is working on the details of the order, so it is not in effect yet.
Hans said UNC System officials are “awaiting clarity” on how and if North Carolina universities might be affected.
The UNC System’s 16 universities do not currently require vaccines for students or employees. System leadership has cited a “lack of clear legal authority” in the matter and advised the campuses that only the North Carolina Commission for Public Health may mandate immunizations for college students.
However, many private universities in North Carolina — including Duke University, Shaw University, Wake Forest University and Elon University — require students to be vaccinated. Meredith College in Raleigh announced Thursday it will require vaccines for the spring 2022 semester now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full FDA approval.
When asked if the university system is pushing for a vaccine mandate with the state legislature or the state commission, Hans said the system is having regular conversations with the state health department, which oversees the commission.
Earlier this week, N.C. State University faculty members passed a resolution calling for a vaccine mandate for all students and employees on campus, citing the Pfizer vaccine receiving full FDA approval.
UNC-Chapel Hill faculty also have taken action to get a vaccine mandate, and student leaders have asked for one as COVID-19 continues to spread on campus. UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has also expressed support for a vaccine mandate.
Six former North Carolina health directors also asked the UNC System to mandate a vaccine for students and employees before the start of the fall semester.
Hans said they are following current public health guidance and flexibility for campuses given their particular situations, including local health conditions, capacities and cultures. But he has not given chancellors the go-ahead to mandate COVID-19 vaccines.