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Virginia colleges roll back employee vaccine mandates after Youngkin order

At least seven campuses will no longer require faculty or staff members to show proof of coronavirus vaccination

The University of Virginia has rolled back its vaccine mandate for employees. (Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post)
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The University of Virginia and George Mason University will no longer require employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, following a directive from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, officials announced Wednesday,

At least five other Virginia campuses have rescinded similar mandates: Virginia Tech, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the College of William & Mary and the University of Mary Washington.

Vaccine requirements for students learning and living on the campuses remain in place.

University of Virginia disenrolls unvaccinated students ahead of fall semester

Since taking office Saturday, Youngkin (R) has issued several executive directives, including one that prohibits state agencies — including colleges and universities — from requiring coronavirus vaccines as a condition of employment.

“We will continue to ensure that every Virginian has access to the information necessary to make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccination and ensure all who desire a vaccination can obtain one,” according to the memo. “However, the requirement of state employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and disclose their vaccination status or engage in mandatory testing is harmful to their individual freedoms and personal privacy.”

Instead of requiring the shots, George Mason officials now “strongly encourage” faculty and staff members and other employees to get vaccinated. Other Virginia universities and colleges have issued similar advice to their employees.

At U-Va., where 99 percent of employees have been vaccinated and 85 percent of employees in the academic division have received boosters, “the small number of employees and faculty who did not comply with the university vaccination deadlines will not face sanctions,” leaders said in an email to the campus. The new guidance is unlikely to alter vaccination rates in a meaningful way, since most people are already immunized, though it could affect new hires.

UVA Health, the university’s health system, will keep its vaccine requirement to comply with federal mandates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, officials said.

Colleges want students to get a coronavirus vaccine. But they’re split on requiring the shots.

While new cases of the coronavirus are on the decline in Virginia, the state is averaging nearly 15,000 new infections daily — some of the highest numbers logged since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. Hospitalizations in the state reached a peak this month and have continued to rise over the past week.

Many campuses, in Virginia and throughout the country, began requiring vaccinations for students and employees early last year. Officials relied on the effectiveness of vaccines as they reopened campuses, reinstated in-person classes and welcomed crowds back to sporting events. As the omicron variant of the coronavirus spread, school officials moved to require boosters, as well.