Virginia’s largest public universities have dropped their Covid-19 vaccination requirement for students to attend in person or to enroll in light of last week’s legal opinion issued by state Attorney General Jason Miyares.
Virginia Tech, George Mason University, the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University announced updates in their policies for the ongoing spring semester on Monday.
Miyares’ opinion, released Friday, said state universities and colleges cannot require the Covid-19 vaccine for students unless the commonwealth’s legislature includes it among required immunizations for higher education institutions. The legal guidance has no direct consequences if it isn’t followed, but an individual who decides to sue a university for not following the guidance could use Miyares’ opinion in court, his office previously told CNN.
All of the universities changed their requirements for employees and instead “strongly” encouraged them to get vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, signed an executive directive the day he took office rescinding the vaccine requirements for state employees.
The Virginia state universities noted that most of their student populations have already been fully vaccinated.
“Given our high vaccination rate, the continued decline of the omicron variant, the Governor’s recent executive orders and directives, and the recent Attorney General’s opinion, we will now strongly encourage vaccination protocols for all Mason students, faculty, and staff, though we no longer require them,” Mason President Gregory Washington said in a message to the university’s community.
Mason’s campus community is nearly 93% fully vaccinated; it does not have data on how many have received booster shots, the university said in a news release.
Washington also announced the university’s goal of lifting its mask requirements by March 4 if the test positivity rate remains below 4% until then.
“I understand the concept of personal freedom. But we must also understand the need for collective responsibility, and just because we can do something does not mean that we should,” Washington said in his message.
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said in a letter that federal regulations may still require students “who work in specific settings to be vaccinated, receive the booster when eligible, and upload their health information.”
Sands also announced that the university will discontinue mandatory Covid-19 testing for students but will provide voluntary testing and keep masking protocols in place.
“We are fortunate that our university community has a very high percentage of vaccinated faculty, staff, and students, which positions us well to maintain operations through the semester,” he said.
In a statement, the University of Virginia’s top officials said that “the issue is moot for us at UVA, at least for the time being,” noting that 99% of the students had adhered to the school’s prior vaccine and booster requirement deadline.
“Because we have such a small number of students who have not yet received the booster, we decided early last week – based on the advice of our student affairs team – that we will not disenroll students who have not yet received their booster, but will continue to encourage them to do so,” they said.
Virginia Commonwealth University officials said Monday that the February 1 deadline for students to report their booster statuses is no longer required. They also said VCU would lift the Covid-19 vaccine holds on student accounts and end surveillance testing for unvaccinated students.
Other Virginia public universities, including James Madison University, the College of William & Mary and Old Dominion University, also announced this week they are ending their Covid-19 vaccination requirements for students.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Jennifer Selva and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.