Vaccination mandate debate trickling into VA gubernatorial race

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The heated debate over Virginia’s vaccine mandate for students entering the 2021-2022 school year at public colleges and universities across the state is starting to trickle down into local politics, including the race for governor.

According to an email to students obtained by Fox News, Virginia Tech’s president Tim Sands states that unvaccinated students are not welcome on campus for the Fall 2021 semester. 

“Although we would like to ensure that all of our students have the best experience possible, no student is required to attend Virginia Tech.” He then lists other options, including “opting out” for the duration of the pandemic or transferring to another institution with more lenient vaccination requirements.

State attorney general Mark Herring issued a legal opinion in April stating that colleges have the legal authority to require vaccines for in-person attendance on public school campuses.

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Public school universities have started to take action on the attorney general’s guidance. 

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Virginia Tech’s website states that “mandating vaccination is an important step toward easing campus restrictions and returning to in-person activities and events.”

“It is important that the Virginia Tech community is vaccinated and it is required that everyone who is vaccinated submit proof of vaccination.”

As a result of universities implementing the attorney general’s guidance, state senator Bryce Reeves sent a letter to all of Virginia’s college and university presidents strongly encouraging them to not require proof of vaccination for students to attend in the Fall.

Reeves writes that schools must accept religious belief exemptions for students and understand that many Virginians remain fearful of the vaccine. In addition, science shows COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are at record lows throughout the state. 

As the state’s race for governor heats up, the two candidates are delicately weighing in on whether or not they would support the current legal guidance by the state to mandate vaccines.  

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin’s campaign, told Fox News that he “believes that vaccines should be available to all Virginians but to mandate vaccines is a step too far. As governor, Glenn will not allow or support vaccine mandates.”

Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Fox News. 

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President Biden is set to join McAuliffe on the campaign trail in northern Virginia at the end of next week. While he hasn’t explicitly stated support for requiring vaccine mandates, the president has been supportive of widespread vaccine use, including a “door-to-door” approach.

Biden’s HHS secretary Xavier Becerra recently came under fire for saying that it is “absolutely the government’s business” to know the vaccination statuses of Americans.