A decision Monday by Nash County commissioners about a plan to offer $100 in incentives to Nash County residents ages 12-18 if they get a COVID vaccination has drawn a firestorm of criticism based on what county officials say is inaccurate information.
Commissioners on Monday gave approval to an overall plan as to how to spend the more than $18 million the county expects to receive from the federal government as part of the America Rescue Plan Act designed for COVID-relief efforts. An eight-member committee appointed by county commissioners made a recommendation to commissioners that included a provision to reward younger residents for getting vaccinated.
The plan would “provide a vaccination incentive to Nash County school-age children age 12-18 in the form of a card program. The incentive would be for any Nash County resident age 12 through 18 who receives both the first and second vaccinations by a date certain. This is to motivate eligible school age children to get vaccinated,” the proposal states.
“We still have a lot of work to do on this, especially in regard to the vaccination of the school kids,” Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis said. “We will need to work with the school administration and the school board to make sure we are both on board with this one.”
Davis, who is a member of the committee, said that he feels the recommendation is an important one.
“The committee that made these recommendations is really in favor of this because it is so important to hopefully keep our kids in school for the full school year because it has pretty much been determined that for the most part, we lost a school year last year,” Davis said.
Davis also said the program would apply to all students in the county, even if they attend private or home schools.
He also said that the county has been in full communication with some school district officials and school board members about the incentive plan.
“We still have a lot of details to work out on this with them,” he said.
Nash County Manager Zee Lamb said Monday the program may be open to amendment to include younger students, especially if Pfizer is given emergency approval to administer the vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.
The commissioners’ decision has caused consternation among many parents — especially over concerns that students may be given the money to be vaccinated without parental consent.
However, county officials say that is not true.
“This decision is getting a lot of press and people are assuming a lot of facts not in evidence, including the idea that there is not going to be parental consent required,” Lamb said Tuesday at a meeting of the Nash County COVID Response Team. “Another idea is that there will be a meeting between the two boards later this week. There is a meeting scheduled later this week among staff members from several departments, including the school administration, but not between the boards.”
The law on parental consent for COVID vaccinations is ever changing as the vaccination approval process also changes. But former state Sen. Angela Bryant said at Monday’s meeting that parental consent is currently required by state law for residents under the age of 18. However, that could soon change.
“Parental consent is only required for vaccines under emergency-use authorization. When full authorization for the Pfizer vaccine occurs for 12- to 17-year-olds, parental consent will be no longer required,” Bryant said.
Full authorization for the Pfizer vaccine could come as early as October and most likely will come by January, according to media reports.
However, that issue may be overridden if the school district administers the vaccinations as is currently planned. That issue is one that legal experts will likely need to explore and the school board will need to consider.
“I think that students 16 and over can consent to their own vaccinations by the general statutes, but I don’t know if the school district will require parental consent,” Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think this is an area they will probably want to give some attention to. I could foresee some issues where the child is offered $100, and that incentive does look extremely good.
“I would hope that the child and the family member will be on the same page about getting the shot, but I am not sure the jury is out on that one yet,” he added.
Hill said he thinks it is likely that the school board will require parental consent if the school district is involved with the process as it is expected to be.
“I would think they would make that decision if they were sponsoring this,” he said. “You know, a teen can come to the health department at 16 or 17 and get birth control, but that is not a school-sponsored project. I would think that something that the school is going to sponsor on their own premises is one that they pay a little more attention to how they want to involve the parents in that decision-making process.”
Davis said Tuesday that county commissioners had assumed that parents would need to give consent for vaccinations.
“I am certain that there was no intent from the county commissioners to ever do anything like this without parental consent,” he said. “In the end, that would be a decision by the school board. But I did have a nice conversation with the chairman of the school board to get his opinion on that and it seems that the school board is of the same mindset that our board is. I don’t want anybody to think that we would be attempting to give any of our students a vaccine without parental consent.”
More details about the plan are expected to be released after school officials have time to give their input into the process.
Lamb said Tuesday that he wants county and school district officials to work together to release accurate information about the plan once the details are decided.
“I request that when you meet with the school system that, for full transparency reasons, you work with the school system to put out a press release with the rules and standards you set,” he said. “People are assuming things that are not necessarily true. We want to get the facts out as they really are and not as some people want to sensationalize them.”
Lamb said in a later interview that the issue of whether the cash cards would be given to the minors or to their parents is another topic up for discussion.
“We will know more after county and school officials meet together later this week,” he said.
In the meantime, Lamb urges the public to be patient and not make assumptions.
“There are a lot of misconceptions in the cloud out there,” he said.