Virginia attorney general-elect Jason Miyares (R.) will challenge the Biden administration's vaccine mandates for teachers and health care workers when he takes office on Saturday.
Legal attacks on both policies are already underway in federal courts. But Miyares says complementing those efforts is in Virginia's interest and necessary to helping patients and students as the toll of the years-long pandemic mounts.
COVID fatigue helped sweep Republicans to victory in last year's elections in Virginia. Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R.) has indicated he'll give local public health officials a free hand at setting policy in their jurisdictions, unlike some of his Republican counterparts who have banned mask mandates and occupancy limits. Still, Youngkin will not require vaccines for state workers.
The health care worker mandate requires any employee at a facility taking Medicare or Medicaid funds to get vaccinated. Another mandate similarly requires COVID vaccination for all employees of Head Start, a federal education program that promotes nutrition and basic skills for children from low-income families.
Miyares told the Washington Free Beacon that the health care worker mandate threatens to exacerbate existing staff shortages in hospitals and primary care centers, particularly in rural and southwestern Virginia. He said administrators anticipate several hundred nurses, assistants, and support staff will quit their jobs rather than comply.
"This would have a devastating impact on their ability to retain employees exactly at the time they need them the most," Miyares told the Free Beacon. "I think it was important for us to make this statement and send this signal prior to us taking office."
The new administration opposes the Head Start vaccine mandate on similar grounds. Miyares raised the prospect of teacher shortages as a reason for opposing the policy, and he pointed to disparate pandemic consequences for minority communities as added justification.
"We've gone from having two-thirds of African-American children in Virginia passing their Standards of Learning to two-thirds failing," he told the Free Beacon, referring to standardized testing. "We are at a crisis in our education system."
The Supreme Court heard a challenge to the health care worker mandate from a coalition of red states during an emergency session on Friday. The justices are separately handling a legal attack on the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test rule for big businesses, which will very likely be decided this week, before Miyares takes office on Saturday.
That schedule means the new attorney general will have time to join attacks on the health care worker mandate but likely won't have the chance to take on the big business mandate. However, Miyares told the Free Beacon he'll take action on the employer mandate if the High Court is sluggish in resolving the dispute.
A majority of justices seemed to think the administration lacks authority to unilaterally impose a vaccine mandate on big businesses during Friday's emergency hearing. But they were closely divided over the health care worker mandate, making its fate uncertain.
Attacks on the Head Start mandate have not yet reached the Supreme Court. A federal trial judge in Louisiana blocked the policy on Jan. 2. His injunction covers the 24 states who are supporting a challenge to the policy, meaning the mandate is still pending in 26 states.
The health care worker and Head Start mandates require all covered employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 31.