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Virginia Department of Health won’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines in public schools following petition

The agency said it ‘does not have clear statutory authority’ to mandate the vaccine for employees

(Alberto Pezzali, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Virginia Department of Health said Monday that it will not impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools.

Back in September, a Virginia mom, Kristen Calleja, filed a petition asking VDH officials to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for eligible students and staff in public schools across the Commonwealth. The petition received 15,308 comments: 14,301 were against, 847 were for, and 16 were labeled irrelevant.

[Virginia mom files petition asking state to mandate COVID-19 vaccines in schools]

Despite the big push, VDH made a response to the petition, saying that the agency “does not have clear statutory authority” to mandate the vaccine for employees.

However, the department does have the ability to add a new vaccine requirement for students but said federal health agencies haven’t added the COVID-19 vaccine to its childhood immunization schedule.

It’s unclear if anything will transpire from the failed petition, but Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has publicly opposed mandating the shot during his campaign.

In a one-on-one interview, Youngkin told 10 News, “I encourage people to get the vaccine, but I respect your decision to make that decision and so this is a big difference.”

Below is VDH’s full response to the petition:

Multiple factors influence decisions to require immunizations for school attendance including ACIP recommendations, fiscal considerations, feasibility of implementing the requirement(s), and administrative burdens that may be associated with such requirements.

With regard to the request to mandate vaccines for school employees, VDH does not have clear statutory authority to promulgate regulations for this population.

With regard to a mandate for students, § 32.1-46 of the Code of Virginia clearly provides statutory authority and VDH already promulgates the Regulations for the Immunization of School Children. However, VDH does not have statutory authority to remove the religious exemption.

At this time, all vaccines required by the Regulations for the Immunization of School Children are in alignment with recommendations from ACIP, CDC, AAP, and AAFP with the exception of influenza and COVID-19. VDH has determined that requiring influenza vaccine annually for all children for daycare and/or school attendance would have significant costs to VDH, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services and school systems and daycares. It would also be complex to implement a requirement for school attendance because the new annual vaccine typically does not become available until late August or September, coinciding with the start of the school year. COVID-19 has been added to the CDC immunization schedule webpage but not yet added to Table 1, Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger, United States, 2021.

With respect to the Petition, in light of the lack of clear statutory authority to implement vaccine mandates for school employees No Action is being taken as it relates to vaccine mandates school employees.

Also with respect to the Petition, given the continued administrative, logistical, and financial burdens related to influenza, and the COVID-19 vaccine not yet being added to the Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger, No Action is being taken as it relates to vaccine mandates for students.

About the Author:

Nicole Del Rosario joined WSLS 10 in August 2020.