by Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
January 28, 2022

Attorney General Jason Miyares said Friday state colleges and universities don’t have the authority to require students get vaccinated or boosted against COVID-19, reversing a legal opinion from his predecessor that reached the opposite conclusion.

“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 in a legal opinion requested by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The immediate impact on state schools, many of which have maintained vaccine mandates for students since the shots became widely available, was unclear.

Miyares’ opinions are advisory and non-binding, but the schools also rely on Miyares’ office for legal advice. (Miyares’ made news earlier this week when he fired legal counsels at the University of Virginia and George Mason University.)

Spokespeople for UVA and Virginia Tech said they were reviewing the opinion to determine how to proceed.

The schools had already eliminated vaccine requirements for faculty and staff after Youngkin signed an executive order during his first day in office striking the requirement for state employees, which was put in place by former Gov. Ralph Northam.

Former Attorney General Mark Herring had opined in April that the General Assembly had granted broad discretion to leaders of state colleges to establish policies, which he said would include vaccine requirements.

Miyares’ reaches essentially the opposite determination, writing that the General Assembly specifically sets immunizations required to enroll in public schools and that COVID-19 is not among them.

He notes that the General Assembly had several opportunities to add COVID-19 to the statute and did not.

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Assembly has amended other statues to address pandemic-related issues,” the opinion says. “To date, the General Assembly has not amended the specific immunizations enumerated in (state code) to include immunization for COVID-19, and boards of visitors may not exercise and implied power to require ja certain vaccine when a specific statue governing vaccination excludes it.”

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