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Health, Science & Environment

State law forces Ohio State, other public universities to abandon vaccine mandates

Ohio State employee Stacey Boyer, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Kelli Barnes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
Associated Press

The Ohio State University is no longer requiring students, faculty and non-hospital staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The change is in response to vaccine policy changes at the federal level and to remain compliant with state law.

In 2021, Gov. DeWine signed legislation prohibiting public K-12 schools, colleges and universities from requiring people to get a vaccine if that shot does not have "full approval" from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Eventually, the original COVID vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna did get full FDA approval and schools like OSU were able to require them for their campus communities.

But last month, the FDA amended its policies, sunsetting those old vaccines and updating its guidance for the newer bivalent vaccines.

“As the virus has changed into these different variants, the bivalent vaccine has a broader protection against getting really, really sick from the virus or in some cases getting it at all," said Dr. Andrew Thomas, Chief Clinical Officer at OSU Wexner Medical Center.

But, because right now the bivalent vaccines only carry emergency use authorization, OSU and other state schools can't require them under state law.

Dr. Thomas expects the bivalent shot to be fully approved eventually. Until then, he said, it's still a great idea to stay up-to-date on COVID shots, especially for people who are at higher risk due to age or their own medical conditions.

“You can get very sick, you can end up in the hospital. Certainly we still have people that pass away from COVID. It's just a far different scenario than it was when there was no immunity at all," Thomas said.

The medical community has learned a great number of lessons from vaccine policy and the pandemic in general.

Just like anything, the vaccines are not without risk, Dr. Thomas said. But that risk is quite small and the vaccines have been shown millions of times over to be very safe.

The past three years have also shown how important it is for people who aren't feeling well to stay home, Thomas said.

"I think, the interwoven nature of our society and how people travel and how people interact has just, I think, proven how dependent we all are on each other to try and do the right thing when we're sick," he said.

OSU's transition comes ahead of the end of the federal public health emergency, which is set to expire May 11.

Health, Science & Environment VaccinesVaccine MandateOhio State
Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.