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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

DeWine Signs Bill Prohibiting Vaccine Mandates At Ohio Public Schools, Colleges

A technician from the Findlay College of Pharmacy fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Reynoldsburg in February 2021. [Dan Konik / Statehouse News Bureau]
A technician from the Findlay College of Pharmacy fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Reynoldsburg in February 2021.

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) on Wednesday signed a bill into law prohibiting public K-12 schools, colleges and universities from requiring people to get a vaccine if that vaccine does not have "full approval" from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The law applies to the COVID-19 vaccine, which has been approved by the FDA through Emergency Use Authorization, meaning the drugs still require "rigorous testing" and clinical trials.

The provisions, which were added as amendments to House Bill 244, say a public school or state institution of higher education shall not require an individual to receive a vaccine that has not been granted full FDA approval. 

The measure adds that Ohio’s public schools cannot "discriminate" against an individual who has not received the vaccine, and defines discrimination as "requiring the individual to engage in or refrain from engaging in activities or precautions that differ from the activities or precautions of an individual who has received such a vaccine."

On Tuesday, DeWine said he was not ready to discuss his decision on the bill but said the FDA's emergency use authorization label for the COVID-19 vaccine is leading to hesitancy. 

"It is past time for the FDA to take into account that hundreds of millions of people have received these vaccines and to move it from an emergency basis over to a regular basis," DeWine said. "I would just plead with them to do that. It's very, very important, lives are frankly at stake. If they will do that, it won't convince everybody, but there are people out there we know who will be convinced if that's done." 

The move for the bill to become a law also approves the original intent of the legislation, which was to help the transition for kids in military families from one school to another. If a K-12 student is moving to Ohio, they will be able to enroll at a new Ohio-based school before they officially move and participate in virtual learning. If that student is moving out of Ohio, they can remain in their original school district until they enroll in a new out-of-state school. 

State Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware) proposed the vaccine amendment on the Senate floor June 28. Brenner said the urgency came down to timing on the issue and that he wanted the legislature to make the proposal law before the new school year. 

After the amendment was added and the bill passed, Senate Democrats issued a statement calling for DeWine to veto the legislation. 

“It is unfortunate that critical legislation to support our military families was tainted by last-minute amendments that will put the lives of Ohioans in danger. We strongly feel that such major policy changes, particularly those directly impacting our children and teachers, deserve thoughtful consideration,” the Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to DeWine, adding the provisions on discrimination would stop schools from mandating masks for people who are not vaccinated.

The amendment on vaccines does not apply to hospitals or health care facilities that are owned by, operated by, or affiliated with a university or college. Nor does it apply to private schools.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.