Will Utah lawmakers block mandatory vaccines? Cox says he won’t require shots

Steve Christiansen of West Jordan has a 2022 bill called ‘Vaccine Requirements Amendments’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nurse Melanie Bills administers a COVID-19 vaccine to University of Utah student Eddie Overbay in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

When the Food and Drug Administration granted full authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Monday, it opened the door for Utah governments to implement vaccine mandates.

Or it opened the door at least a third of the way.

A Utah law, passed earlier this year, blocks state and local governments from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine. That also includes colleges, universities and public schools. But that law blocked only mandates for vaccines that have been approved for emergency use.

Once a vaccine is granted full approval, the ban on mandates evaporates. There is nothing stopping private businesses from implementing a vaccine mandate for employees or customers.

And there is no prohibition on a college, university, city government or school district from requiring employees to get the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines cannot be mandated, because they remain under emergency authorization.

The Pfizer vaccine is now fully approved for people 16 and older. For those ages 12 to 15, the vaccine is still available under an FDA emergency use authorization.

On Tuesday, Louisiana State University announced all attendees 12 and over at home football games will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours to enter the stadium. There’s nothing stopping the University of Utah and Utah State University from requiring the Pfizer vaccine now that it’s gained full approval. Since BYU is a private university, the state’s vaccine mandate ban does not apply.

In reality, though, getting governmental entities in Utah to implement a mandate may be much more difficult.

Gov. Spencer Cox is not on board with any requirement for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The governor remains against vaccine mandates,” spokesperson Jennifer Napier Pierce said, declining to respond when asked if Cox would block other state entities from requiring vaccines.

Other Utah legislative leaders are staying mum.

“The speaker is not making any statements about vaccine mandates at this time,” said Alexa Roberts, spokesperson for House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, did not respond to a request for comment.

There will likely be an attempt to block vaccine mandates in the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January.

Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, has opened a bill file titled “Vaccine Requirements Amendments,” but when asked he declined to explain what he intends to accomplish with the legislation.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s office said Tuesday it is now reviewing its legal authority regarding vaccine mandates with its legal team.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s office also did not commit when asked about a making vaccines mandatory.

“The health and safety of our employees and the residents they serve is a priority and we are discussing all possible options,” spokesperson Nikola Lindsey said in an email.

More Utahns seem to be getting the message when it comes to vaccinations. A recent survey from OH Predictive Insights asked Utahns whether they would take the COVID-19 vaccine if it was offered at no cost, and 12% said they would take the vaccine and 17% said they would not. Some 63% replied they were already vaccinated.

Almost 56% of all Utahns have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and just over 48% are fully vaccinated. Among those over age 12, 69% have had one dose and 60% are fully vaccinated.

Correction: • An earlier version of this story listed incorrect ages for continued emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine.