RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Republican elected leaders said this week they will oppose any legislative effort to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the state's list of required immunizations.
The announcement from GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin and House Speaker Todd Gilbert came after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of U.S. vaccine experts, said that COVID-19 shots should be added to lists of recommended vaccinations for kids and adults.
The panel’s decisions are almost always adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director and sent to doctors as part of the government’s advice on how to prevent disease. State and local officials also often look to the lists in making decisions about vaccination requirements for school attendance, but don’t always adopt every recommendation.
Virginia, for example, does not require the annual flu vaccine to attend school — even though it appears on the CDC’s schedule.
Virginia Department of Health spokesperson Maria Reppas said in an email to AP earlier in the week that there “is no direct, immediate impact on COVID-19 vaccine being added to the Immunization Schedule on school required vaccines in Virginia.”
Reppas said changes to the school requirements would need legislative or regulatory action.
“Under state law, the only way to create a mandate would either be through rule-making by the Board of Health, which would not happen until 2024, or through an action of the General Assembly, which will not happen while I am Speaker,” Gilbert said in a statement Friday.
Democrats currently control the state Senate.
Youngkin tweeted Thursday night that the “decision to vaccinate a child against COVID-19” should be up to parents. His spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, said in an email that the governor would veto any legislative attempt to add vaccination against the coronavirus to the state's immunization requirements.
Virginia Democrats took issue with the governor's messaging. In his tweet, Youngkin said, “We will not adhere to these (CDC) mandates. In Virginia, parents matter.”
In the lead-up to the vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, false claims spread widely that it would mean the vaccine would be required to attend school. They gained momentum after being shared by Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Gianni Snidle, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Youngkin was pushing “dangerous misinformation from his office to score political points.”
“The CDC itself stated that they cannot mandate schoolchildren to receive a vaccine — even Republican Speaker Gilbert acknowledge that. I advise the the Governor to stop listening to Tucker Carlson and begin listening to the science,” he said in a statement.
Porter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the criticism.