Tennessee Won’t Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination in Public Schools, Governor Says

By GQ Pan

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Tuesday that once the CCP virus vaccines become available, they will be optional for the state’s K–12 public school students.

When asked at a press conference whether he is in favor of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for students and staff in K–12 schools, Lee replied that he does not foresee a mandate for Tennessee’s school systems.

“What I think about the vaccines is that they’re going to be very important for us in this state to curb the virus and ultimately, really be able to handle it,” the Republican governor said, adding that he and health officials are impressed by the speed and safety of the vaccines that are coming online.

“But vaccines are a choice, and people have the choice and will have the choice in this state as to whether or not they should take that vaccine,” Lee said. “That will be our strategy and that is what we think will happen all across the state.”

According to Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, the first COVID-19 vaccine batch, likely from Pfizer, could arrive in the state around Dec. 15. She said the number of initial doses, although fluctuates “pretty widely,” could be in the range between 80,000 and 100,000, with two doses required per person. Frontline health care workers and first responders will be the first to get vaccinated.

Under Tennessee’s state law, parents are allowed to not immunize their children for robust religious reasons, as long as the state is “in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat of an epidemic.” A bill introduced in the Tennessee legislature last week, however, would remove the provision that limits the religious exemptions from school and work vaccination requirements in the case of an epidemic.

Introduced by Republican state Rep. Jay Reedy and Sen. Mark Pody, the proposed legislature would allow religious exemptions from all immunization requirements, no matter how severe the public health situation is. It also adds a provision that prohibits any state agency or department from enforcing any rule that requires medical examination, immunization, or treatment for those who object “on religious grounds or by right of conscience.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also said last week that the state won’t make it mandatory for every resident to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our goal is to make all safe and effective COVID vaccines available to Floridians who want them, but the state will not mandate that Floridians take these vaccines,” DeSantis said. “That is going to be the choice of each and every Floridian.”

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