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FireNews : 2 Virginia universities end student vaccine mandate after state AG’s legal opinion #FireNews365

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.

Both Virginia state universities are instead strongly encouraging students to get the Covid-19 vaccine and booster, while noting that most of their student population has already been fully vaccinated against the virus.

“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.

The attorney general’s 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.

Virginia Commonwealth University is “reviewing the opinion to determine how it affects VCU students, particularly those students in hospital and clinical settings,” VCU spokeswoman Corey Byers told CNN on Friday.

At the end of its fall semester, VCU had more than 97% of its faculty and staff and more than 95% of students vaccinated against Covid-19, according to Byers.

All three 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.

CNN has reached out to the University of Virginia for comment.

CNN’s Jennifer Selva contributed to this report.

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