Virginia Commissioner of Health says he’ll mandate a COVID-19 vaccine, bill could allow some to opt out

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Commissioner of Health Dr. Norman Oliver told 8News on Friday that he plans to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for Virginians once one is made available to the public.

Virginia state law gives the Commissioner of Health the authority to mandate immediate immunizations during a public health crisis if a vaccine is available. Health officials say an immunization could be available as early as 2021.

Oliver says that, as long as he is still the Commissioner of Health when a vaccine is available, he intends on mandating it.

“It [the 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,” Oliver said.

Under current state law, only people with a medical exemption could refuse the mandate.

The Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill during the ongoing special session that would allow people with a religious opposition to opt out of the requirment. The bill needs to clear a house committee before the full chamber could vote on it. There is no scheduled date for when the bill will be debated.

Oliver says he strongly opposes the bill. He doesn’t know what the punishment would be for non-compliance but expects that most people will respond well to the mandate.

Meanwhile, a new poll suggests more than one in three Americans aren’t interested in getting a coronavirus vaccine. Even though health officials say it will be safe, some have said they are intimidated by the speed at which it’s being developed.

Virginia Freedom Keepers Director of Communications Kathleen Medaries, a mother of three from Chesterfield, says this is a matter of medical choice.

“This is not a republican or democrat issue. It’s not a pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine issue, ” Medaries said. “For me it’s an issue of being able to assess each vaccine for myself and my family one at a time.”

Oliver believes that, in the case of COVID-19, public health takes precedent over choice.

“He shouldn’t be the one person to make a decision for all of Virginians,” Medaries responded.

This developing story. Check back with 8News for updates.

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