Virginia will not mandate COVID vaccines for school employees or students – for now

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The state will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines in schools for employees or students, at least for now. The Virginia Department of Health made the decision this week after a months-long process.

Some Virginia school districts, like Richmond Public Schools, took the lead and required vaccines for employees, but no decisions have been made on the state level until now. Ultimately, the VDH decided it doesn’t have the authority to set requirements for educator statewide, but it’s still a possibility for students later on.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, with VDH, told 8News things could change in the future, “The regulatory and legislative processes are ongoing.”

VDH announced their decision on Monday, but the process started three months ago. In September, Kristen Calleja, mother of a tenth grader, filed a petition with the state calling on the VDH to mandate vaccines for all school employees and eligible students, with an exception for medical exemptions.

The petition reading in part, “My daughter and all other students should have a right to be able to attend school without being unnecessarily put at risk by other students and teachers who refuse to be vaccinated.”

After weeks of public input and agency review, the State Health Commissioner had the option of either granting the petition or taking no action.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver decided to take ‘no action’ for two main reasons, according to Dr. Forlano. She says the language in the petition alluded to COVID-19 vaccines with words like ‘masks’ and ‘pandemic’, but it never specifically stated the word ‘COVID-19 vaccines,’ just ‘vaccines’. Forlano says it was ultimately too vague.

The second reason, she said, was that “The COVID vaccine, although it’s recommended by the CDC, it is not yet been officially added to the CDC’s immunization schedule.”

She clarified saying the VDH doesn’t have the authority to mandate vaccines for Virginia school employees and doesn’t have the federal recommendation it needs to require it for eligible children. However that doesn’t mean the door on a future mandate is closed.

“They will possibly present future opportunities to revisit the immunization regulations,” Forlano said.

A transition of power will happen in Virginia next month as Glenn Youngkin takes office as Governor. 8News asked VDH what that could mean for a future mandate and the response was, “we’ll just have to wait and see what happens”.

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