Virginia to Join Challenge Against Biden Vaccine Mandate After GOP Takes Over Jan. 15

Virginia's governor-elect and attorney general-elect said in a joint statement that they would join other states in challenging President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares, both Republicans, released the statement Friday. They said that upon their January 15 inauguration, they would "quickly move to protect Virginians' freedoms" by joining the challenges to the mandate.

The mandates, announced in late 2021, required employers with over 100 workers to have the workers vaccinated by January 4 or get tested for the virus at least once a week. They also required all health care workers receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding to get the vaccine by the same deadline.

However, a host of Republican-led states have blocked the measures, with the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments on whether the Biden administration has the authority to implement these kinds of mandates.

In their statement, Youngkin and Miyares said the mandates could "force hardworking Virginians to walk away from their paychecks."

"While we believe that the vaccine is a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19, we strongly believe that the Federal government cannot impose its will and restrict the freedoms of Americans and that Virginia is at its best when her people are allowed to make the best decisions for their families or businesses," they said.

Jason Miyares, Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears
Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares announced they would join the group of states challenging the Biden administration's vaccine mandate when they take office on January 15. Above, Virginia Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears and Miyares look on as Youngkin speaks at a campaign rally at the Loudon County Fairground on November 1, 2021, in Leesburg, Virginia. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Miyares told Richmond TV station WRIC earlier this week he planned to sign onto the lawsuits, also acknowledging that it was unclear how soon a ruling from the Supreme Court might affect those components.

A separate legal challenge is also pending to a requirement that teachers in the Head Start early education program be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Supporters of the measures say they will save lives.

The debate comes as the U.S. deals with record-setting COVID-19 case counts due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

However, early studies show omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous Delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Friday's announcement from Miyares and Youngkin was not surprising—both made their opposition to vaccine mandates clear during last year's campaign. But it marked one early example of how pandemic-related policy is likely to shift once Virginia's new wave of GOP leadership is ushered into office. Republicans will also be newly in control of the House of Delegates come next week, while Democrats will still have a majority in the state Senate.

Youngkin has also said he opposes mask mandates and has promised to do away with a requirement that most state workers get the vaccine or undergo frequent testing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.