Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said on Friday that he would mandate a COVID-19 vaccine if publicly available, according to 8News, but a bill under consideration in the Virginia General Assembly would provide a religious exemption.
Under Virginia state law, the commissioner of health has the authority to mandate immediate immunizations during a public health crisis like COVID-19 if a vaccine is available to the public.
While commenting on and supporting a mandated COVID-19 vaccine, Oliver was sharing his personal opinion as a doctor. The Northam administration has not taken an official policy position on a mandated COVID vaccine for adults, Virginia Department of Health spokesperson, Julie Grimes, told The Virginia Star.
“[COVID-19] 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, according to 8News.
Oliver also said that as long as he is still health commissioner when a vaccine is ready, a mandate will be made and that safety is a primary requirement for a COVID vaccine used for mass immunization of the public, according to 8News.
In the Virginia General Assembly 2020 special session, Del. Mark Cole (R-Stafford County) introduced a bill, HB 5016, which would allow Virginians to object to the administration of a vaccine on religious grounds.
“Government does not have the right to force someone to violate their religious rights; no one should be forced to take a vaccine,” Cole told The Star. “Vaccines that have been tested and found to be effective and safe should be offered to the public, and I am confident that the vast majority of people will take advantage of it, including myself. That in itself will be enough to develop a ‘herd immunity.’ There is no reason to force people to take the vaccine against their will.”
Cole also expressed concerns that the rush to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible may lead to effectiveness and safety testing protocols being rushed or not adhered to completely.
Since the House of Delegates is not considering any legislation right now while going through procedures to formalize virtual sessions, the bill is waiting to be heard by the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.
Currently, only people with documented proof from a licensed Virginia physician that a vaccine is detrimental to their health would be exempt from the health commissioner’s mandate.
Oliver said that he opposes Cole’s bill and that public health must be valued above personal choice in the case of COVID-19, but does not know what a potential punishment would be for people who do not comply with the mandate, according to 8News.
In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine while 27 percent would not. Looking at the demographic breakdown of the survey responses, 44 percent of Black U.S. adults and 34 percent of Republicans or leaning Republican surveyed said they would not get a vaccine.
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