RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver told 8News on Friday that he plans to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for Virginians once one is made available to the public.
Virginia state law gives the Commissioner of Health the authority to mandate immediate immunizations during a public health crisis if a vaccine is available. Health officials say an immunization could be released as early as 2021.
Dr. Oliver says that, as long as he is still the Health Commissioner, he intends to mandate the coronavirus vaccine.
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“It is killing people now, we don’t have a treatment for it and if we develop a vaccine that can prevent it from spreading in the community we will save hundreds and hundreds of lives,” Oliver said.
Under state law, only people with a medical exemption could refuse the mandate.
The Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill during an ongoing special session that would allow people with religious opposition to opt-out of the requirement. The bill needs to clear a committee in the House of Delegates before the full chamber could vote on it.
Oliver says he strongly opposes the bill. He doesn’t know what the punishment would be for non-compliance but expects that most people will respond well to the mandate.
Meanwhile, a new poll suggests more than one in three Americans aren’t interested in getting a coronavirus vaccine. Even though health officials say it will be safe, some have raised concerns about the speed of development.
“We would not launch a campaign around mass vaccination with anything that hasn’t proven to be safe,” Oliver said.
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Virginia Freedom Keepers Director of Communications Kathleen Medaries, a mother of three from Chesterfield, says this is a matter of medical choice.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s not a pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine issue, ” Medaries said. “For me, it’s an issue of being able to assess each vaccine for myself and my family one at a time.”
Oliver believes that, in the case of COVID-19, public health takes precedent over choice. He said herd immunity is the state’s best defense to stop the spread.
“He shouldn’t be the one person to make a decision for all of Virginians,” Medaries responded.
Update: After this story aired, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office told 8News that he is not planning to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia. View that story here.