RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia will join other Republican-led states and business groups in challenging Biden administration mandates intended to increase the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination rate once GOP Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares take office, the two said in a statement Friday.
“While we believe that the vaccine is a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19, we strongly believe that the Federal government cannot impose its will and restrict the freedoms of Americans and that Virginia is at its best when her people are allowed to make the best decisions for their families or businesses," they said in the joint statement.
They said that after their Jan. 15th inauguration the commonwealth will “quickly move to protect Virginians’ freedoms” and join challenges to components of President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.
The announcement came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether to allow the Biden administration to enforce a vaccine-or-testing requirement that applies to large employers and a separate vaccine mandate for most health care workers.
Miyares said he planned to sign onto the lawsuits, also acknowledging that it was unclear how soon a ruling from the Supreme Court might affect those components.
A separate legal challenge is also pending to a requirement that teachers in the Head Start early education program be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Youngkin and Miyares said in their statement that the pandemic had caused “heartbreaking health, societal, and economic loss and suffering throughout the Commonwealth and the United States.”
But they said the vaccine mandates would “force hardworking Virginians to walk away from their paychecks."
Supporters of the measures say they will save lives.
The debate comes as the U.S. deals with record-setting COVID-19 case counts due to the highly contagious omicron variant.
The variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus. However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Friday's announcement from Miyares and Youngkin was not surprising - both made their opposition to vaccine mandates clear during last year’s campaign. But it marked one early example of how pandemic-related policy is likely to shift once Virginia’s new wave of GOP leadership is ushered into office. Republicans will also be newly in control of the House of Delegates come next week, while Democrats will still have a majority in the state Senate.
Youngkin has also said he opposes mask mandates and has promised to do away with a requirement that most state workers get the vaccine or undergo frequent testing.
This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email firstname.lastname@example.org to send a tip.