Legal analyst: Miyares student vaccine opinion gives momentum, but no promises to possible lawsuits

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia colleges and universities cannot require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a legal opinion issued Friday by Attorney General Jason Miyares. The opinion was requested by Governor Glenn Youngkin and marks Miyares’ first official opinion since taking office this month.

His democratic predecessor, Mark Herring, had issued the opposite opinion while in office. In explaining his reasoning for the opinion, Miyares said the general assembly has to include the COVID vaccine among the other required immunizations before colleges can mandate it.

“[T]here is no question that the General Assembly could enact a statue requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person school attendance. As of this writing, it has not done so. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Assembly has amended other statues to address pandemic-related issues,” a release from Miyares’ team stated.

8News is looking into if and how an opinion like this could change the rules on local campuses. Students have already been required to get vaccinated or request exemptions at many area schools, like VCU and VSU, for months.

We asked 8News legal analyst Russ Stone: how much weight do Miyares’ words hold?

“They do not carry the force of law. It’s not like he can come into office and just change the law,” Stone said.

Stone says it could, though, offer ammunition to a future lawsuit.

“Say your child has been refused admission to a university because they’re not vaccinated. They might think because the attorney general says that, that they have a good case to sue on,” Stone said.

Still, in court, an attorney general’s opinion doesn’t dictate the outcome, Stone said. “A judge is free to agree with it or disagree with it.”

After the opinion was issued Friday, some schools have begun reacting to it. A VCU spokesperson said the university is “reviewing the opinion to determine how it affects VCU students, particularly those students in hospital and clinical settings.”

This comes weeks after the university strengthened its policy, requiring students to get their booster shots as well.

8News reached out to other area public schools like Virginia State Universitiy to get their take and is waiting to hear back.

On Youngkin’s first day in office, an executive order he issued ended mandates which require public university staff and faculty to be vaccinated.

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