Lawyer: Vaccine mandate at health care facilities blocks college students

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Students move through the park in in front of a university building. (iStock photo)

Lawyer: Vaccine mandate at health care facilities blocks college students

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(The Center Square) – A North Carolina lawyer is raising the alarm about vaccine requirements at health facilities that he says are preventing some community college students from participating in health care programs.

James Lawrence III, former deputy counsel at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and partner at the Envisage Law firm in Raleigh, told The Center Square he’s met with multiple community college students. Those students have told him they’ve been blocked by school officials from participating in health care programs because of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

“Basically what’s happening is there are a number of students that want to study in different community college health care programs … and as part of those programs schools require clinical rotations,” he said. “What some health care facilities have said is they won’t take any students without the vaccine.”

“At the same time, there are facilities that approve exemptions,” Lawrence said.

In one example, a student at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst secured an exemption from her doctor, who advised against the vaccine because of a medical condition.

“In this case, there is one facility in the rotation that won’t take exemptions,” prompting the school to block the student from the program, Lawrence said.

Lawrence said state law requires schools to accommodate vaccine exemptions, but school officials have pointed to the rules from health care facilities requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinations have been controversial since they began, and even more as time has passed since the major outbreak in the U.S. in March 2020.

“The pushback from the school is ‘we’re not doing it,’” he said.

Rather that work with exempted students to limit rotations to certain facilities, Sandhills and other community colleges opt instead to reject students from participating, Lawrence said.

“This community college and others have shown a real lack of flexibility to make things work,” he said. “We’ve heard from more than a dozen (students) and that means there’s probably more out there.”

Messages from The Center Square left with multiple Sandhills Community College officials went unanswered on Friday. Lawrence said the students who have contacted his firm attend a variety of the state’s 58 community colleges, though none have retained his counsel, he said.

Lawrence declined to identify the Sandhills Community College student involved to protect her identity.

“I don’t have permission to share her identity,” he said. “I’m trying to bring attention to it without bringing undue attention to her.”

Lawrence has represented a variety of clients in vaccination-related issues in recent years. He posted a thread to X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter, about the Sandhills student on Thursday, prompting several replies confirming similar situations at other state community colleges. Lawrence said he posted about the ordeal to raise awareness about the impact on the health care industry, noting there’s no longer a federal vaccine mandate and two former U.S. health secretaries have called for changing immigration policies to help solve the nursing shortage.

“Why in the world are we making it harder for young men and women to enter these fields when we have a recognized shortage?” he said. “It’s not like there’s not unvaccinated workers in the system, because there are.”

Lawrence’s ultimate goal, he said, was to motivate lawmakers in Raleigh to act.

“I hope the policymakers and general assembly here in North Carolina will do something about it,” he said.

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