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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Top health experts said full FDA approval of the COVID-19 shots could make it easier to enforce vaccination mandates.

The three vaccines have emergency use authorization right now, but full approval would remove certain legal barriers for businesses and governments to require the COVID shots.

“It’s a difficult issue,” said Dr. Rachel Roper, a professor at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. “You’ve got so many people getting sick and the hospitalizations are going up. We’ve got this new variant. Getting people vaccinated is the best way to protect people.”

Leaders in the UNC System announced they will not make university students get vaccinated before returning to campus. There are some schools in North Carolina requiring the shots.

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“Duke is, Wake Forest is,” said Roper. “Businesses are requiring them and the courts have upheld that as legal.”

Roper compared vaccine mandates to seatbelt laws.

“Everybody has to wear a seatbelt and that’s just to protect you,” she said. “These vaccines protect you and the whole community. They protect young children who can’t be vaccinated. They protect transplant recipients, cancer patients.”

Onslow County Public Health Director Kristen Hoover-Richmond said if we were to see any mandates, they would likely only be in certain industries, like hospitals or specific businesses.

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“In a lot of hospital healthcare settings, there are already requirements for annual vaccination,” she said.

If nothing else, Hoover-Richmond is hopeful full FDA approval will make unvaccinated people more comfortable rolling up their sleeves.

“This is certainly not experimental, so a full approval would really be more of an underscoring and a reaffirmation that we know this vaccine is safe and effective,” said Hoover-Richmond.

With the Delta variant on the rise across the U.S., health officials want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. They said the shots protect against death and severe illness.