Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Health decided to take no action on a petition to mandate COVID vaccines for school employees and eligible students.

The petition was filed in September by Virginia mom Kristen Calleja. It called on the department to mandate the vaccines and asked that only medical exemptions be allowed. 

“My daughter and all other students should have a right to be able to attend school without being unnecessarily put at risk by other students and teachers who refuse to be vaccinated,” Calleja wrote, adding that “the irrational minority should not be dictating the public health policy for Virginia or the schools.”

Calleja wrote that students should not be unnecessarily put at risk by those refusing the vaccine and without constant disruptions to their education. Unfortunately even with an increase in vaccines, and now boosters, emerging variants like omicron continue to cause disruptions and even vaccinated individuals are still contracting COVID.

“We must be aware that even triple-vaccinated are likely to transmit the disease,” Ugur Sahin, CEO of vaccine developer BioNTech, recently told the French daily LeMonde.

Natalie, a Fairfax County mom, said she would not be getting her child vaccinated due to research and evidence provided by many doctors and specialists. “There have not been extensive trials and we will not know the true consequences, and side effects for years to come,” she said. “One huge side effect being reported even on the CDC website now are blood clots and myocarditis. I would never risk my son’s life on it when the survival rate for children is more than 99.9 percent.”

During the 21-day public comment period, the petition received more than 15,000 comments. More than 14,000, or 93.42 percent, of the comments were opposed to mandating the vaccine, according to the decision summary. More than 800 Virginians supported requiring the shots for both students and school employees.

Since 2004, VDH has received 13 petitions for rulemaking, less than one per year on average, according to a VDH official. “We believe this to be the greatest number of comments we have received on a petition,” she said adding that this was the only petition that has involved immunization requirements.

Currently VDH does not mandate any vaccine for school employees, however it requires vaccines against 15 different diseases for students. VDH lacks the authority to remove exemptions to required immunizations, according to the decision.

When asked whether the COVID vaccine might be added to the list of required vaccines, they said it’s difficult to predict what future actions may be taken. “VDH will continue to assess these regulations for school required vaccines from time to time to ensure conformity with federal recommendations. We will continue to assess federal recommendations along with Virginia-specific financial and logistical considerations for each vaccine,” explained the spokesperson.  “VDH will provide such information to the Board of Health for their consideration as it becomes available.”

The COVID-19 and flu vaccinations are the only ones currently recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they are not required for K-12 students in Virginia. VDH officials said the flu vaccine isn’t required largely for logistical and financial considerations, including the fact that the formulation changes annually. 

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a non-profit organization which advocates for the human right to informed consent, agreed with the decision, according to Barbara Loe Fisher, NVIC co-founder and president. She said this action enables students and workers in Virginia to exercise voluntary, informed consent to use of COVID-19 vaccines.

“It is our position that any consideration of future proposals related to vaccine mandates should be voted on by elected representatives in the state legislature, not implemented by VDH officials through rule making authority or dictated by the Board of Health, and both the religious exemption and a flexible medical exemption to vaccination should be honored by the state,” said Fisher.

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