Youngkin: 'We have to just respect' people for refusing COVID vaccines

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The Republican nominee for Virginia governor opposes most efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin said Wednesday that he believes it is important to protect the "liberty" of people who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine even as hospitalizations from the delta variant continue to rise.

Youngkin made the comments during an appearance on a right-wing radio show. The remarks were first flagged by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge 21st Century.

"I believe that we have to just respect people's ability to express their liberty to say, no, I'm not going to get this vaccine for whatever reason," he said.

Youngkin accused his opponent, Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, of "a mandate, close, lockdown" strategy.

"Think about what Terry McAuliffe is saying about the vaccine right now. He wants to make it difficult on Virginians for exercising their right to decide whether to get the vaccine or not," he said.

"This is an individual decision," he added.

But the decision of whether or not to get vaccinated has broad public health implications for others, including hundreds of thousands of Virginia children who are not yet eligible for the vaccines.

"Glenn Youngkin's reckless anti-vaccine agenda is a threat to the health and safety of all Virginians," Manuel Bonder, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Youngkin is encouraging the dangerous rhetoric and behavior that stands in the way of beating COVID-19," he added.

Beyond his opposition to employer vaccine mandates, Youngkin has consistently opposed other strategies to slow the rapid spread of the delta variant, even as cases and hospitalizations in the state have soared back to levels not seen since February.

He has fought against face mask mandates in Virginia schools, saying in a statement on Aug. 12, "Make no mistake about it, this mask mandate is the first step towards returning to a full shutdown of our economy. We must respect parents' right to decide what is best for their own children. If parents, teachers, and children want to wear a mask, they absolutely should do that, but there should not be a statewide school mask mandate."

Youngkin has repeatedly cited Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a model for how Virginia should approach the pandemic. DeSantis has infamously shunned most safety measures, leading to a spike in hospitalizations and one of the highest case rates in the country.

Youngkin has also donated more than $16,000 from his political action committee to elect other anti-vaccine Republicans running across the state. This included a $3,000 donation to House of Delegates nominee Scott Pio, who has falsely said the flu is more deadly than COVID-19 and that the vaccine might not be necessary.

Barring proper efforts to control the pandemic, Virginia's strong economy could see a decline.

As the delta variant spreads across the country, consumers may end up buying fewer goods and services, experts say.

"People, in general, will be a little more hesitant to go out and about and spend,” Gad Levanon, an economist with The Conference Board, told Marketplace in late July.

Youngkin's gubernatorial opponent, meanwhile, has taken a different tack, requiring his campaign staff to get vaccinated and urging other employers to do the same.

"I urge every Virginia employer to require all eligible employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus," McAuliffe wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece Wednesday. "Together, we can beat this virus once and for all, keep our fellow Virginians safe and keep our commonwealth's economy running strong."

McAuliffe also has backed face mask usage, saying through a spokesperson earlier in August, "...We have to do everything we can to keep our children safe while they return to schools in-person this fall."

Polls show the vast majority of Americans support such safety measures. A USA Today/Ipsos poll, released Sunday, found 66% of adults support state and local mask requirements and 62% favor businesses requiring workers to get vaccinated.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.