Virginia governor's office downplays vaccine mandate but leaves door open for one

Administration suggests voluntary compliance should be sufficient to forestall a mandatory vaccine.

Updated: August 25, 2020 - 5:22pm

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's administration this week is downplaying the possibility of a mandate for a future COVID-19 vaccine, though a spokeswoman still left the door open for mandatory compliance at some point in the future. 

Last week state Health Commissioner Norman Oliver told media that he anticipated making an eventual coronavirus vaccine obligatory for all Virginians. Asked if he planned to mandate the vaccine if he is still health commissioner when one is available, he replied: "Yes."

Northam's office on Monday partially pushed back on that position. "When Dr. Oliver spoke of his support of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine for adults, he was sharing his personal opinion as a physician," Northam spokeswoman Maria Reppas told media. "Currently, the Northam administration has taken no official policy position on whether or not a COVID-19 vaccine for adults should be mandatory."

Spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky offered further clarification, suggesting in her response that the governor's office is counting on widespread voluntary compliance to avoid imposing a mandate. "When a vaccine becomes available, we're confident that Virginians will seek it out," Yarmosky said. "That's why we don't have plans for a mandate. WRIC reported that the spokeswoman did not clarify whether the administration had ruled out the possibility of a mandate entirely. 

Virginia law allows for the state health commissioner to order the vaccination of every state resident in the event of an epidemic, although individuals with qualifying medical conditions are exempt from such mandates.