Audio: NC Commission on Public Health members joke about anti-vax and mask “rhetoric” prior to official meeting

RALEIGH — Screencapture featuring Ronald May, chair of the N.C. Commission on Public Health at a virtual meeting held on Oct. 15, 2021.

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Commission on Public Health met virtually on Oct. 15 and members of the body joked about what they referred to as anti-vax and mask “rhetoric” in audio obtained exclusively by North State Journal.

The N.C. Commission on Public Health had previously discussed adding the requirement during its August meeting and several members spoke up in favor of requiring school children to get the shot. The commission tabled the topic but failed to take it up again at its Oct. 15 meeting.

At Gov. Roy Cooper’s Sept. 21 COVID-19 press briefing, both he and N.C. Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Mandy Cohen were asked whether or not they will seek to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of the K-12 immunizations. The (NCCPH) is the only body other than the legislature that can add immunizations to the list of requirements for attending public school in North Carolina is the N.C. Commission on Public Health (NCCPH).

During the Sept. 21 briefing, Cooper said he was “excited” that children ages 5 to 11 might be able to get the vaccine in the near future but did not answer whether his office would push to make it a K-12 immunization requirement.

Cohen added that there are “no plans at this time” to ask the NCCPH to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of requirements for K-12 students and that “we’ll step through that [process] as we go forward.”

The NCCPH’s Oct. 15 meeting failed to meet quorum requirements due to the members who are part of the N.C. Medical Society being at an annual meeting.

During the pre-meeting chatter, Chair Ronald May said he was “encouraged so far that we don’t have 453 participants” watching their meeting.

“Just add to the emergency agenda that we’ll mandate the vaccine and see how many thousands sign up for you,” remarked NCCPH member Don Chaplin.

“Yeah, that was good – thanks for sending that, Virginia, that was an interesting article in The Assembly,” member Douglas Sheets then added.

It is unclear what article Sheets was referring to, but the top article on The Assembly’s website published an article on Oct. 14 titled, “The Untouchable Student Vaccine Mandate.”  The article cites the NCCPH, Cooper’s hesitancy to ask the NCCPH to impose a K-12 vaccine mandate, and states, “some commissioners privately say they have no idea how a vote would shake out—and fear for the commission’s future if they do attempt to introduce a mandate.”

“I know you talked to that reporter [from The Assembly], she talked to me too, Doug,” said May.

“Yeah, I said, ‘I’m just a member, I’m not the chairman’,” Sheets said.

“Do you know where she [The Assembly author] called from? Do you know where she lives?” asked May.

“Yeah, she’s in Denmark,” responded Sheets.

“Yeah, isn’t that amazing?” May asked.

Member Don Chaplin chimed in and said he had a call from the Chapel Hill newspaper, the Daily Tarheel. He was uncertain if any of his quotes showed up in an article, but said he spent “half an hour” apparently discussing child vaccination mandates.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper confirmed that he participated in a call with the White House that discussed COVID-19 vaccination of young children starting as early as November.

Cooper was asked about the call by North State Journal during a press event while the governor was visiting the N.C. State Fair on Thursday, Oct. 14.

“We did have a conversation with the White House about vaccination of children five to 11,” Cooper said. “We’re going to wait for it to go through the authorization process but our people stand ready and our providers stand ready to get children vaccinations and we look forward to being able to do that.”

The report of the White House’s “private phone call” held with governors around the nation was first reported by ABC News on Oct. 12. According to ABC News, which obtained audio of the call, governors should have their states “prepare to begin vaccinating elementary-school-aged kids against COVID-19 in early November.”

ABC News also reported that the White House said there would be “enough pediatric doses on hand for the 28 million children ages 5 through 11” and that those doses are “expected to become eligible once federal regulators give the green light.”

The NCCPH’s pre-meeting discussion also included some crosstalk conversations with N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, who serves as state health director and chief medical officer.

Near the end of chatting with Tilson, Sheets spoke up about an “anti-vax, anti-mask parade” happening in Forest City, located in Rutherford County.

Chair May responded by saying, “Good for them.”

“Yeah. I’m deliberately going to stay away,” Sheets replied.

“Yep. I wonder if they’ll wear masks,” joked May with Sheets laughing in response.

The event in Forest City appears to be taking place on Oct. 16 and will protest against erosion of freedom and civil liberties facing citizens due to the pandemic.

Sheets seemed to mock a congressional representative’s position on masking of children.

“Our congressman was saying that forcing children to wear masks was psychological child abuse,” Sheets said, referring to Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (NC-11).

Chaplin interrupted at that point and asked, “is there any break in this rhetoric? Anywhere we’re seeing people step up to the plate recognizing this rhetoric is counterproductive?” He went on to say that “they have a real challenge here trying to stop this mess with the vaccine being the only really [sic] way to stop it.”

“There are certainly people saying that but I don’t know how much there are being heard,” replied May.

May said it was hard to know what was being heard because “the people who get the publicity make the noise.”

“Well, I guess the only real way to know is that the percentage of vaccinations is going up,” said Chaplin. “The bottom line will be how many of the parents are willing to let their children get this vaccine to stop this pool of viruses.”

May commented that in his area around 40% of 12 to 15-year-olds are already vaccinated.

Chaplin reminisced about how the polio vaccinations were “done in schools” and the support that came from the community to get that vaccine done.

“Different times,” said May.

“Different times and different rhetoric,” replied Chaplin.

Listen to the full audio of the NCCPH’s pre-meeting conversation exclusively at