Herring advisory opinion affirms that Virginia colleges, universities can require COVID-19 vaccinations for students
Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued an official opinion Monday that Virginia colleges and universities “may condition in-person attendance on receipt of an approved COVID-19 vaccine during this time of pandemic.”
This opinion will help provide guidance for Virginia colleges and universities as they begin to make plans for next fall’s academic year with the goal of keeping their students, faculty, staff, and surrounding communities safe and healthy.
“We have seen how crucial vaccinations will be for keeping the COVID-19 pandemic under control and putting us on a path towards normalcy,” Herring said. “Virginia’s college and university students deserve the chance to go to classes in-person and take advantage of all that their schools have to offer, but over the past year we have seen numerous COVID outbreaks on school campuses, so we must make sure that they are doing so with the health and safety of their peers and communities in mind.”
In his opinion, Herring details the various authorities in Virginia law that allow for vaccination requirements for certain circumstances and events. First, he explains that “there is no question that the General Assembly could enact a statute requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person school attendance.”
He also explains that the Commissioner of Health has “the power of ‘requiring immediate immunization of all persons in case of an epidemic of any disease of public health importance for which a vaccine exists other than a person to whose health the administration of a vaccine would be detrimental as certified in writing by a physician licensed to practice medicine in this Commonwealth.’”
The AG specifically explains in the opinion that “Virginia’s colleges and universities may take steps to protect the health and welfare of their students by conditioning attendance in various activities or settings on receipt of an approve COVID-19 vaccine.” Adding that “it remains up to the individual institutions to determine whether requiring students to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination has a real or substantial relation to protecting public health and safety on their campus.” Additionally, Attorney General Herring notes that “an institution’s board of visitors may require vaccinations as a condition of in-person attendance.”
Herring concluded that “Virginia’s state institutions of higher education, as defined in Title 23.1 of the Code of Virginia, may determine that in-person attendance in various activities or settings presents a risk to students or others, and that it may condition attendance upon being vaccinated. While it is my belief that our public colleges and universities may condition in-person attendance on receipt of an approved COVID-19 vaccine during this time of pandemic, it is not without complications and our public colleges and universities should be prepared to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions and/or religious objections. Any requirement of an approved COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic should be formulated to best effectuate the public health and safety of the respective campuses.”