COLUMBUS, Ohio — Public schools and colleges in Ohio would be prohibited from requiring individuals to receive vaccines not granted full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, under a bill targeting coronavirus vaccinations signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike DeWine.
The bill, to take effect in 90 days, would also prohibit individuals who don't receive emergency use vaccines from being denied the chance to participate in school activities such as sports.
The Republican governor signed the bill without comment, although a day earlier he said the FDA needs to move coronavirus vaccines from emergency use authorization to full approval as soon as possible. He said the emergency element is leading to vaccine hesitancy in the state.
“It is past time for the FDA to take into account that hundreds of millions of people have received these vaccines, and move it from an emergency basis over to a regular basis,” the governor said Tuesday. “That will help us, in Ohio and across the country, to get more people vaccinated.”
The measure was a last-minute GOP addition to a bill aimed at minimizing disruptions for children of military families moving into or out of districts as a result of their parents' deployments.
“Parents in consultation with personal doctors have the right to make decisions about their children, especially for vaccinations that are not fully approved by the FDA,” Sen. Andrew Brenner, a Delaware Republican, said during Senate debate on the “emergency use” prohibition on June 28.
Democrats say the measure was a political ploy for votes and not based in science.
“Public schools and universities in Ohio should be able to create policies to keep their students and employees safe,” Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, a Cleveland Democrat, said Wednesday after the governor signed the bill.
Democrats also criticized a second last-minute GOP addition to the legislation requiring the state Department of Health to provide transportation, lodging, food and medical testing to individuals ordered to quarantine because of a contagious disease outbreak.
Earlier this month, DeWine vetoed a Republican-backed portion of the state budget that would have stopped disciplinary actions against companies cited for violating public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic and refund payment of any fines. The governor said it would send a “horrible message” to the majority of companies who followed state mandates to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
House Republicans are also pushing another bill that would prohibit employers, either public or private, from requiring employees to receive vaccinations. The measure before the GOP-controlled House Health Committee has attracted multiple opponents of COVID-19 vaccines but does not mention the coronavirus. Instead, it addresses mandatory requirements for all vaccines, such as for the flu.
Lawmakers adjourned for the summer without moving the bill out of committee. It's opposed by every major business group in Ohio along with multiple medical, hospital and health care groups.
DeWine signed the legislation Wednesday just hours after his top medical advisor warned that vaccination trends have led to the development of “two Ohios” when it comes to combating the coronavirus, increasing vulnerability to the disease's highly contagious delta variant.
The delta variant is rapidly becoming the disease's dominant strain and is a real threat to those who are unvaccinated, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, said in a morning briefing.
The delta variant was first identified in India and is now spreading in more than 90 other countries. Meanwhile, about 5.3 million people in Ohio, or 45% of the population, have completed the vaccination process.
"The reality is, we now have two Ohios," Vanderhoff said. “An Ohio that is vaccinated and protected on the one hand, and an Ohio that is unvaccinated and vulnerable to delta on the other.”
About nine of every 10 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in central Ohio since April have been partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all, added Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer at the Ohio State University medical center.
Wednesday's bill signing, along with the doctors' warnings, also came a day after DeWine said Ohio will soon announce a second coronavirus vaccine incentive program following the Vax-a-Million initiative that offered five $1 million prizes and five full-ride college scholarships.