RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — State colleges and universities in Virginia cannot require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19, under a legal opinion issued Friday by Virginia’s new Republican attorney general.
Attorney General Jason Miyares found that because the state legislature has not passed legislation specifically mandating coronavirus vaccines for students, the colleges and universities don’t have the authority to require them.
State lawmakers “specifically authorized” colleges and universities to help health officials with administering vaccines, but they "did not grant such institutions power to impose vaccine requirements,” Miyares wrote in a letter to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who sought an opinion on the issue.
The advisory opinion from Miyares is based on the attorney general's analysis of current law, the state and federal constitutions, and relevant court decisions, according to the Attorney General's Office. It is not a ruling and does not create new law or change existing law.
Miyares noted that while the state legislature has enacted laws requiring immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, German measles and mumps before students can enroll in a college or university, it has not passed a law requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for enrollment.
“I conclude that, absent specific authority conferred by the General Assembly, public institutions of higher education in Virginia may not require vaccination against COVID-19 as a general condition of students’ enrollment or in-person attendance,” Miyares wrote.
Many of Virginia's public colleges and universities have required students to get COVID-19 vaccinations, including Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the University of Mary Washington.
Brian Coy, a spokesperson for the University of Virginia, said the school is reviewing the opinion from Miyares, but did not comment on whether university officials will consider ending the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students. Coy noted that 99% of the school's students are vaccinated and boosted.
Mark Owczarski, a spokesperson for Virginia Tech, said university leadership is discussing the opinion from Miyares, but did not comment on whether the school will consider changing its requirement for students to be vaccinated.
At least six public colleges dropped their vaccine requirements for employees after Youngkin issued an executive order rescinding the vaccine mandate for employees of state government agencies.
Youngkin and Miyares both took office on Jan. 15 after a Republican wave in the November election that also gave the GOP a majority in the state House of Delegates.
On his first day in office, Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates for their children. That order is being challenged in two lawsuits, one filed by a group of parents and the other by seven school boards.
A news release issued by his office Friday says Miyares is vaccinated and boosted and “encourages everyone to get the vaccination.”