Virginia’s Commissioner of Health Dr. Norman Oliver, MD said on Aug. 21, 2020 that he intends to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all residents of Virginia as soon as a vaccine is available. “[Coronavirus] 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,” Dr. Oliver said.1 2 3
According to Virginia law, the state health commissioner has the authority to mandate vaccinations during a public health crisis if a vaccine is available.1 2 3 However, there is growing concern in Virginia over the idea of forcing people to get a COVID-1- shot or any vaccination against their will.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s not a pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine issue,” says, Kathleen Medaries, Director of Communications for the non-profit Virginia Freedom Keepers. “[Dr. Oliver] shouldn’t be the one person to make a decision for all Virginians.”1 3 4
VA Governor May or May Not Support a COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
Despite Dr. Oliver’s support for mandating a COVID-19 vaccine for Virginia, the position of the state’s Governor is unclear. On Aug. 24, Alena Yarmosky, spokesperson for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, MD said the state’s physician Governor has no plans to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia.5
In a public statement, Yarmosky said:
We are focused on accessibility, affordability, and fair distribution of a vaccine—not on a mandate. … When a vaccine becomes available, we’re confident that Virginians will seek it out. That’s why we don’t have plans for a mandate.4
Maria Reppas, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) sought to clarify Dr. Oliver’s position, pointing out that, “When Dr. Oliver spoke of his support of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine for adults, he was sharing his personal opinion as a physician.”5 She said that, “Currently, the Northam administration has taken no official policy position on whether or not a COVID-19 vaccine for adults should be mandatory. VDH regrets this error.5
Lois Shepherd, JD, professor of Law and Biomedical Ethics at the University of Virginia, said, “The government has broad powers in a public health emergency so that is the key here… would a mandatory vaccine be a reasonable measure to protect the public’s health?” She added, “If there were a mandatory vaccine, that doesn’t mean people would be held down kicking and screaming. It means that there would be some kind of penalty for not getting a vaccine.”5
VA House Committee Rejects Bills to Allow Religious Exemption to COVID-19 Shot
The Virginia Legislature voted this past spring to amend the state’s vaccination laws for daycare and school attendance to automatically mandate that children enrolled in daycare or school receive all current and future vaccines recommended by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) after members of the politically appointed Virginia Board of Health vote to add the vaccines to school vaccine mandates.6 7 On Aug. 25, 2020, the Virginia House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions rejected bills that would have allowed state residents to opt-out of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for religious reasons. Delegate Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) said:
I would hope if someone intentionally doesn’t take a vaccine, and contracts this disease, knowingly and intentionally goes out in public, and kills someone, I hope they’re sued for wrongful death, or possibly even criminal penalties. So I certainly don’t want to go in the other direction and make it easier for people to kill people.
VA Families To Hold March Against Mandates in Richmond on Sept. 2
The Virginia Freedom Keepers and other freedom organizations in Virginia plan to hold a protest March Against Mandates in Richmond, Virginia on Sept. 2, 2020 in opposition to current COVID-19 related mandates and any proposed future vaccine mandates. A rally will take place outside the Science Museum in Richmond from 10 a.m. to Noon
Virginia has been under a state of emergency declaration issued by Gov. Northam on Mar. 12, 2020 that has included quarantines, masking requirements and closure of shops, restaurants, schools, offices and other public venues. The protest march event announcement notes that the emergency law permits the Governor and appointed state officials to “unilaterally mandate medical [and] other matters without consulting the will of the people.”8 9 The announcement further states:
Bills to limit the Governor’s power during an emergency—both scope and time—have been ignored. Also, the Health Committee tabled bills that would have ensured Virginians right to delay or decline a COVID shot despite over 12,000 Virginians voicing opposition. The blatant disregard for the will of the people will be addressed by our March Against Mandates.8
1 DeFusco J, North E. Virginia May Mandate COVID-19 Vaccine. Fox WFXR Aug. 21, 2020.
2 Geraghty J. Do We Want State Authorities Making a Coronavirus Vaccine Legally Mandatory? National Review Aug. 24, 2020.
3 DeFusco J, North E. Virginia Health Commissioner says he’ll mandate a COVID-19 vaccine. ABC 8News Aug. 21, 2020.
4 Virginia Freedom Keepers.
5 DeFusco J. Northam not planning on COVID-19 vaccine mandate despite support from top official. ABC 8News Aug. 24, 2020.
6 Hendler C, Fisher BL. Virginia Legislature Gives CDC, Board of Health Power to Mandate Vaccines for School Children. The Vaccine Reaction June 15, 2020.
7 Dashiell J. VA House Committee Defeats COVID-19 Vaccine Bills. NBC29 Aug. 26, 2020.
8 March Against Mandates. Virginia Freedom Keepers.
9 Governor Northam Declares State of Emergency, Outlines Additional Measures to Combat COVID-19. Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam Mar. 12, 2020.