On July 14 Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law Ohio House Bill 244, which includes an amendment addressing vaccine mandates by public schools and universities. This amendment:
- prohibits public k-12 schools and public colleges and universities from mandating vaccines that do not have full Food and Drug Administration approval;
- prohibits public k-12 schools and public colleges and universities from treating vaccinated and unvaccinated students differently- this prohibits mandating additional safety requirements, such as requiring masks or social distancing; and
- specifies that these restrictions apply to public educational institutions themselves and not hospitals or health care facilities that are operated or affiliated with those institutions.
Private schools remain unaffected by this law and may mandate vaccines as a condition for attendance if they desire. Notably, the COVID-19 vaccines available from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are approved through the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization and have not yet received full FDA approval. As such, public school systems will not be able to mandate these vaccines as a condition of attendance, or for any other reason, once the law goes into effect on October 13. Governor DeWine did not comment on his signing of the bill but has previously expressed a desire for these vaccines to obtain full FDA authorization as he believes that would reduce vaccine hesitancy and would lead to more individuals receiving vaccines.
One Ohio public university, Cleveland State University, previously announced that it would require students to receive COVID-19 vaccinations to live on campus. Cleveland State remains committed to this in the interim, as it still plans to require COVID-19 immunization when students move in to campus and start classes in August. Cleveland State has said it will comply with the law once it becomes effective in October.
Several private Ohio colleges have mandated the vaccination for those living on campus and are unaffected by the new law.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for full FDA approval earlier this year and the FDA is targeting January to make its decision. If full approval is obtained, schools and colleges would be permitted to mandate these vaccines. However, even if schools mandate the vaccinations, Ohio law provides a broad exception to immunization requirements for k-12 public schools based on “reasons of conscience.” This exception specifically includes religious convictions but could serve as a sort of catchall exception for immunization requirements. It remains to be seen how these vaccine mandates or restrictions may shape the future landscape of educational institutions.
If you have questions or seek additional guidance on vaccines and education, please reach out to one of our attorneys.