Following a request for analysis by Delegate Mark Keam, D-Va. 35, Attorney General Mark Herring announced Monday that he believes Virginia colleges and universities can condition in-person attendance on proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Virginia’s college and university students deserve the chance to go to classes in-person and take advantage of all that their schools have to offer, but over the past year we have seen numerous COVID outbreaks on school campuses, so we must make sure that they are doing so with the health and safety of their peers and communities in mind,” Herring wrote.
In the opinion, Herring wrote that the General Assembly could enact a statute requiring vaccines for in-person attendance. Herring also found that the Virginia Commissioner of Health has the power to require “immediate immunization of all persons in case of an epidemic of any disease of public health importance for which a vaccine exists,” with the exception of individuals for whom a vaccine would be detrimental, as certified by a licensed physician.
Despite these options, Herring focuses on Virginia’s individual colleges and universities taking the decision into their own hands.
Herring says that no federal law would ban Virginia schools from requiring a COVID-19 vaccine. Herring also suggested that a university’s Board of Visitors could require vaccines as a condition of in-person attendance, as could an individual institution.
“It remains up to the individual institutions to determine whether requiring students to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination has a real or substantial relation to protecting public health and safety on their campus,” Herring wrote.
In response to the attorney general’s opinion, University spokesperson Brian Coy says the University will make an announcement on its vaccine policy in the future.
“The University is reviewing the Attorney General’s opinion and working with public health experts and legal advisers to finalize a decision on vaccine requirements for the coming academic year,” Coy wrote.
Many school systems have announced they will be requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, including Duke University, Georgetown University and the University of California system.