VIRGINIA, USA — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has declined to move forward with a petition calling for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Virginia public schools, citing a lack of "clear statutory authority."
The original petition, started by Kristen Calleja, called for a vaccine mandate for all school employees, with only a medical exemption (no religious exemptions) allowed as well as all students for whom the vaccine has been approved (those ages 5 and older).
"Vaccines are already required for all state employees,"
Calleja said in her petition. "In addition, vaccines should be required for all students for whom the vaccine has been fully approved, just as many other vaccines are mandated."
The VDH said the petition was posted for a 21-day public comment period and received 15,308 comments. Of those comments, 93% were against the petition, while only 5.5% were in favor of it. Many of the against commenters wanted the vaccine to remain voluntary, some believed the religious exemption was necessary and others said they doubted the safety and efficacy of the vaccine altogether.
"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, and without constant disruptions to their education," Calleja said. "... The irrational minority should not be dictating the public health policy for VA or the schools."
Ultimately, the main factor for the Virginia Department of Health's decision, they said, was the fact that the CDC had not yet formally added the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of recommended adolescent immunizations for those ages 18 and younger.
"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," VDH's decision read. "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."
Virginia's Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has made it clear he will repeal Governor Ralph Northam's vaccine mandate for state employees on day one of his reign, and has said he would rescind mask mandates in K-12 schools.
“The only way to end this pandemic is to for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Northam said in August. “As head of state government, we have a responsibility to lead by example and ensure the safety of our employees and the people they serve."
Though Youngkin has said publicly he encourages Virginians to get vaccinated, and has done so for himself and his family, he believes it should remain a choice.
"As governor, I would strongly recommend people get the vaccine," Youngkin said in an August radio interview. "But it’s an individual decision for people to make."