Washington — West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who has publically encouraged parents to vaccinate their children, said Sunday there's "no chance" he will mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for students because he believes "mandates only divide us."
"I truly believe that the mandates only divide us and only divide us more. From the standpoint of mandates, I don't believe in imposing upon our freedoms over and over and over. I don't know how many times I've got to say it," the Republican governor said during an interview on "Face the Nation." "But from the standpoint of our children, I'm going to still encourage in every way, because I truly believe that the more people that we get vaccinated, the less people will die."
Less than 50% of West Virginia's eligible population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state-wide mask mandate was lifted in June, but 51 out of 55 counties have some kind of mask mandate for schools.
During a press conference last week, Justice reported 72 coronavirus outbreaks in schools across 26 counties, with 831 confirmed cases. On September 27, Justice said about 1,000 children had tested positive for COVID-19 and he urged parents to get their kids vaccinated to prevent spread and long-term effects for children.
"Absolutely the risk of the vaccine is so minimal, it's unbelievable. Absolutely, get your kids vaccinated," Justice said during a live-streamed COVID-19 response press briefing. "It's really safe. Don't take the chance."
Justice has repeatedly used incentives to encourage West Virginians to get vaccinated, with several programs aimed towards students over the age of 12. "Do it for Babydog" is one incentive program, named after the governor's English bulldog, in which vaccinated individuals can register to win prizes. Justice called the campaign "tremendously successful" and said because of it "we have vaccinated hundreds of thousands of more West Virginians."
There are several vaccines for other infectious diseases currently mandated for West Virginia students, such as polio, measles and mumps, but when asked why West Virginia won't require students to be protected from the coronavirus, Justice said that decision is for parents to make.
"We all want to protect our children," Justice said on Sunday. "But parents have decisions to make in this situation too, just like the local officials have decisions to make."
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