One of Virginia's top health officials says he intends on making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory once it's available.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver told WRIC-News that he supports a vaccine, especially one that could potentially save numerous lives.
"It is killing people now, we don't have a treatment for it and if we develop a vaccine that can prevent it from spreading in the community, we will save hundreds and hundreds of lives," Oliver said.
But some people are worried about whether or not a vaccine, which has been fast-tracked, is actually safe.
"We would not launch a campaign around mass vaccination with anything that hasn't proven to be safe," Oliver said.
Currently, the state permits people with a medical waiver to refuse a mandate.
But the Virginia General Assembly is reviewing House Bill 5016, which was introduced by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) this month. The bill would grant an exemption to the vaccine mandate based on "religious grounds."
Debate has come up over whether any state has the authority to order its residents to get vaccinated.
Dov Fox, a law professor and the director of the Center for Health Law Policy and Bioethics at the University of San Diego said states can enforce a vaccine and penalize people who don't comply with the mandate.
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"States can compel vaccinations in more or less intrusive ways," Fox told KGTV. "They can limit access to schools or services or jobs if people don't get vaccinated. They could force them to pay a fine or even lock them up in jail."
"Courts have found that when medical necessity requires it, the public health outweighs the individual rights and liberties at stake," Fox added.
States that consider a vaccine requirement must ensure that access to the immunization is easily obtainable.
No further state health officials have publicly declared that they plan on mandating the coronavirus vaccine.
Dr. Jonathan Temte, associate dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health said state officials will likely be working on these logistics for months to come.
"We're in the middle of a public health crisis and we're trying to build the airplane while free-falling," Temte said. "This is all playing out against the backdrop of an ever-changing set of information on what this virus does."
A spokesperson for VA Gov. Ralph Northam said on Monday that the governor does not plan on mandating a COVID-19 vaccine.
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