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Ducey singles out COVID, won't block other vaccine rules at universities

Ducey singles out COVID, won't block other vaccine rules at universities

  • Updated

State health chief Dr. Cara Christ gave the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Gov. Doug Ducey in early March, stressing its safety. Yet, this week, Ducey ordered the state's universities not to require students be vaccinated against COVID, with his spokesman saying these vaccines have not been through the full FDA approval process.  

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey won’t block state universities from requiring students to be vaccinated against measles, among other illnesses, despite ordering them this week not to require COVID-19 shots.

Ducey is aware that the universities preclude students from registering unless they meet certain immunization requirements, including for measles, mumps and rubella, his press aide C.J. Karamargin acknowledged.

And — unlike in the university policy that Ducey overruled Tuesday on COVID vaccines — there is no work-around, like getting tested regularly and wearing a mask, to allow students to avoid getting inoculated for MMR.

But Karamargin said there’s a good reason for the difference.

He said the vaccines for those three diseases have full approval of the federal Food and Drug Administration. By contrast, the vaccines for COVID-19 are available under what the FDA calls an Emergency Use Authorization.

That makes it a different situation, Karamargin said.

However, Ducey’s order earlier this week makes no reference to the formal FDA status of any vaccine. Instead, it singles out only inoculation for COVID-19.

It also comes at a time of increasing kickback by some of Ducey’s fellow Republicans, who not only won’t get vaccinated themselves, citing safety questions, but have made a political issue of the virus. Some even have insisted that Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, lied about the threat of the virus to convince people to agree to be inoculated.

But Karamargin said the distinction Ducey is making between the shots for MMR and for COVID is not political.

“Those vaccines are part of a schedule of vaccines that have gone through the full FDA approval process,’’ he said of what the governor is allowing the universities to continue to require. “The COVID vaccines have not.’’

But Karamargin was careful with his wording.

“This is not to say they are unsafe,’’ he said of the COVID vaccines. “We believe they are safe.’’

It would be a surprise if the governor or his spokesman argued otherwise, and not just because both have received the vaccine.

Dr. Cara Christ, the state health director, has also affirmed that the vaccines are safe. More to the point, she said that Emergency Use Authorization designation was largely meaningless.

“These vaccines have been through the exact same clinical trials as all of the other vaccines,’’ Christ said. The Emergency Use process, she said, simply cuts down on the “bureaucratic requirements.’’

Karamargin, however, said Ducey’s actions in eliminating any requirement for students to be vaccinated against COVID remain valid because “they fall under a different category.’’

But he would not answer whether Ducey will relent and rescind his order when the vaccines get full FDA approval. Pfizer applied for full authorization for its vaccine on May 7, with Moderna following suit on June 1.

“That’s a hypothetical,’’ Karamargin said.

He also brushed aside that, unlike for the MMR vaccines, nothing in the now-overturned policies of the state universities actually required students to get inoculated against COVID.

At both the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, unvaccinated students and those who refused to disclose their status still had the right to attend classes provided they were tested at least once a week and agreed to wear face coverings. And Northern Arizona University dealt with the issue simply by requiring all students to wear masks.

“You imply that it’s voluntary,’’ Karamargin said when asked about that. “It’s not. If you have to jump through all of these hoops, it’s not voluntary.’’

Anyway, he said, none of this matters anymore. “All of this is moot because they’ve agreed to comply,’’ he said, noting the announcements by the three universities and the Arizona Board of Regents to scrap their policies after Ducey’s order.

Karamargin rejected the idea that the schools really had no choice, given the control the governor can exercise over their budgets.

“You’re calling Michael Crow a shrinking violet?” he asked, referring to the ASU president.

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