SALT LAKE CITY — College students might be allowed to apply for exemptions from vaccinations — include the COVID-19 vaccine — that universities may require in the future to attend courses.

HB233 prohibits higher education institutions that offer both remote and in-person learning from requiring a vaccine-exempt student to participate remotely. It allows for one carve-out where students studying in a “health setting” like the University of Utah School of Medicine or nursing programs would need those vaccinations as a protection.

“Once they’re 18, they can then go through a process where they can go through the same exemption process that, if they need to, for whatever medical or personal reasons, they can exempt themselves from the vaccination of whatever type,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale.

“Something we’ve seen is the importance of in-person learning. If an institution offers in-person learning, that it is offered as well to these students who have exempted,” Strong said.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, wondered if there was even a problem in Utah for students being unable to enroll or participate in in-person learning if they were exempted from a vaccination.

Strong said yes.

“Some have had to change school programs or schools. Some have had to hire an attorney to craft some sort of exemption,” said Strong.

Ward still had concerns. He said that though Strong’s bill might not intend to discourage vaccinations, but “it’s close by that,” noting that Utah has the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S.

“My feeling is that that weakens our safety net and our herd immunity and our protections,” Ward said.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Syracuse, fought against Ward’s concerns.

“I believe that one of the reasons we have one of the lowest vaccination rates is not because people don’t trust the vaccine but because they’re making their own choices for their own bodies, their own medical decisions,” she said.

“I believe people should be empowered to do that in Utah. That is the Utah way,” she said.

The bill passed the House, 48-22, and moves to the Senate for consideration.