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Virginians debate whether COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory

Though the federal government is asking states to prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine within months, some Virginians differ on whether a vaccine should be mandatory when it becomes available. 

Capital News Service

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By Will Gonzalez

Though the federal government is asking states to prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine within months, some Virginians differ on whether the vaccine should be mandatory when it becomes available.

Virginia Freedom Keepers, a nonprofit that advocates for medical freedom, gathered in Richmond last week for a “March Against Mandates,” in protest of the statewide mask mandate, as well as a potential vaccine mandate, in response to COVID-19. The Virginia General Assembly is currently holding a special session to discuss the budget, along with COVID-19 and criminal justice reform measures.

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said in a recent interview with ABC-8 (WRIC-TV), that if he is still Virginia’s acting Health Commissioner when a COVID-19 vaccine is made available, he will make immunization mandatory.

“It is killing people now, we don’t have a treatment for it and if we develop a vaccine that can prevent it from spreading in the community we will save hundreds and hundreds of lives,” Oliver said.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s office did not back up the health commissioner’s statement. Northam’s administration told WRIC it had “taken no official policy position on whether or not a COVID-19 vaccine for adults should be mandatory.” Northam’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Capital News Service. According to the Virginia Department of Health press office, when Dr. Oliver spoke in support of a mandate for a future COVID-19 vaccine, he was “sharing his personal opinion as a physician.”

Virginia law currently gives the health commissioner the authority to issue a mandate for a vaccine in the case of an epidemic. The law allows doctors to exempt people from vaccination if their health would be negatively affected. A. E. Dick Howard, a professor of international law at the University of Virginia, says this statute must be read in light of the state constitution, which states the commonwealth’s executive power is vested in the governor, meaning it’s unlikely that Oliver would have the final word.

“This provision is meant to focus both authority and responsibility of the governor. It therefore argues against the splintering of authority in the executive branch,” Howard said in an email.

 The current language exempts those with a note written by a doctor, but two Virginia delegates wanted to exempt people who object to vaccination on religious grounds.

HB 5070, introduced by Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun, and HB 5016, introduced by Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, have similar wording. The two bills, which were tabled during the special session, would have eliminated the health commissioner’s authority to enforce a vaccination mandate for people who object due to religious beliefs.

“I am concerned that there is such a rush to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, that normal safety and effectiveness testing may be bypassed, leading to the distribution of a vaccine that has not been fully tested,” Cole said in an email. “Who knows what the health consequences of short-circuiting the process may be?”

LaRock did not respond to a request for comment about his bill. Cole said constituents concerned about a mandatory vaccine asked him to introduce HB 5016, and that “religious beliefs” in the bill incorporates any belief system, including secularism.

“I am old enough to remember the Swine Flu scare more than 40 years ago. President Ford started a program of public vaccinations to protect people from it,” Cole said. “I received the vaccine when I was in college.”

In 1976, a swine flu outbreak in New Jersey led President Gerald Ford to issue a nationwide immunization program, according to the Los Angeles Times. Of the 40 million Americans who received the vaccine around 500 are suspected to have contracted Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder that damages nerve cells and causes paralysis in some cases.

“No one should be forced to take a vaccine. Every vaccine has some health risks associated with it; they may be relatively minor, but they are there,” Cole said. “Vaccines that have been tested and found to be effective and safe should be offered to the public, and I am confident that most people will take advantage of it, including myself.”

In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states have the authority to regulate for the protection of the public and a community has the right to protect itself against an “epidemic of disease,” regardless of one’s political or religious objections, according to the National Constitution Center. The ruling allowed the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts to fine residents who refused to receive smallpox injections. According to Howard, in the case of a mandatory vaccine, the court ruled that states may create an exemption based on religion but are not obliged to do so.

“Thus, the question of what qualifies as a religious exemption depends on how a statute is drafted and interpreted,” Howard said.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Downtown

Children’s Hospital Foundation launches $100 million capital campaign for new “Wonder Tower”

Last week, the Children’s Hospital Foundation launched the public fundraising phase of its Built for Kids capital campaign, with a goal of raising $100 million from the community to support the construction of a new inpatient and emergency tower at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, affectionately known as the Wonder Tower.

RVAHub Staff

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Last week, the Children’s Hospital Foundation launched the public fundraising phase of its Built for Kids capital campaign, with a goal of raising $100 million from the community to support the construction of a new inpatient and emergency tower at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, affectionately known as the Wonder Tower.

As part of the public fundraising launch, Children’s Hospital Foundation launched a creative campaign throughout Central Virginia designed to raise awareness of the new hospital and inspire donations from the community, corporations and individuals.

Once complete, the Wonder Tower will be the culmination of years of planning to bring world-class pediatric facilities to Central Virginia. Located in downtown Richmond, the 16-story tower will be home to CHoR’s Level 1 pediatric trauma center, emergency room, inpatient units, new operating rooms, increased imaging capacity and family amenities —all in an environment created just for kids and families. The facility features free, convenient parking, all private patient rooms and kid-friendly design and architectural elements. Connected to CHoR’s outpatient Children’s Pavilion, the facility completes an entire city block dedicated to caring for kids.

“A hospital environment just for kids and families has been our community’s vision for many years, and it’s becoming a reality as we complete an entire city block dedicated to pediatric care – all under one roof,”  said Elias Neujahr, CEO of CHoR. “The Wonder Tower will be a place where every child in our growing community has a chance to heal, recover and celebrate their super powers. It will be a place where our nationally ranked care, innovative research and top-tier education programs come together to provide the best patient experience for kids and families.”

Reflecting the wonder of the new hospital, the creative campaign was concepted and designed by Markham & Stein, a Miami-based agency, along with Richmond-based Brand Federation, which handled research, brand and messaging work. At this stage, the “Built for Kids” campaign visually highlights the look of the new facility, while the messaging emphasizes the need to “defend childhood” and protect the most vulnerable among us – children.

“People understand and connect with the idea that childhood must be protected as it’s critical to a child’s development and vital for so many reasons,” said Lauren Moore, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital Foundation. “The Wonder Tower is a place where children will receive world-class medical care close to home, and while they’re there, we’ll do everything possible to keep the spirit of childhood all around them.”

Children’s Hospital Foundation is currently running a dollar-for-dollar matching campaign to encourage the community to maximize their impact by 100% by taking advantage of the Foundation match commitment. To date, the Foundation has raised more than one-third of its $100 million fundraising goal.

CHoR is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary year treating all children in need of care. In June 2019, CHoR broke ground on the new inpatient tower adjacent to the current outpatient Children’s Pavilion, which when completed will create a free-standing, full-service children’s hospital on East Marshall Street between 10th and 11th streets. Construction is expected to be complete in 2023.

To follow along with the progress of the Built for Kids capital campaign or give to the Wonder Tower, visit builtforkids.org.

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Business

The Richmond Night Market launches holiday villages across the city to celebrate the season

The Holiday Villages are a multicultural holiday market shopping experience that will feature local goods, art, food, music, and the best of Richmond culture.

RVAHub Staff

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The Richmond Night Market, in partnership with the City of Richmond, Office of Economic Development, Flying Squirrels, Brok Productions, and media partner, Richmond Magazine, announced it will open five Holiday Villages across the city this holiday season to celebrate the Richmond community and its resilience. The open-air markets will be open every Saturday from 12 to 7 p.m. beginning November 28 to December 19. Vendors are encouraged to apply.

“Richmond is an amazing city and we want to make sure folks don’t forget about that, especially during these challenging times,” said Melody Joy Short, co-founder of Richmond Night Market. “We are a village and it’s important that we continue to support each other, especially our artisan and small business community. Let’s spread some holiday cheer, celebrate each other, and do our part to uplift the local economy.”

The Holiday Villages are a multicultural holiday market shopping experience that will feature local goods, art, food, music, and the best of Richmond culture. The open-air markets are spread across several locations to encourage social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19, with strict COVID-19 measures in place supported by the City of Richmond. Plus, attendees will have an opportunity to explore different neighborhoods including Manchester, Scott’s Addition, the Arts District, Jackson Ward, and Shockoe Bottom.

“Every neighborhood has its own vibe and flavor,” said Adrienne Cole Johnson, co-founder of Richmond Night Market. “The food, shopping experience, retailers and services are all unique to each part of the city and we want to recreate that with our Holiday Villages. We want people to shop and buy local, as well as showcase all of the gems in the city.”

“Artists and small businesses across the board should sign up to become a vendor,” Cole Johnson added.

The Richmond Night Market launched in April 2019 as a monthly gathering at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market in Shockoe Bottom as a way for locals and tourists to shop for clothing, jewelry, visual art, organic products and even artisanal food. Event organizers shifted their approach during the pandemic, launching a successful virtual experience that allowed patrons to engage with independent, small businesses in a new way on social media.

“We see our Holiday Villages as an extension of what we’ve been doing all year,” said Short. “Most, if not all businesses, have experienced some disruption and we want to ensure there is true recovery. Our efforts have increased sales by 40 percent for many artists. With the holiday season around the corner, our aim is to keep creating these opportunities to generate revenue and uplift this community.”

Patrons will be able to start their shopping experience on Small Business Saturday (November 28) and explore all of the Holiday Villages through Saturday, December 19. Those interested in becoming a vendor can apply at www.richmondnightmarketva.com.

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Community

New Law Prohibits Open Carry, Law not Enforced Last Night when Boogaloo Boys Show Up Last Night

To amend and reordain City Code 19-334.1, which prohibits the carrying of firearms within certain places, to modify the nature and extent of the firearms and prohibited places subject to inclusion as permitted by Va. Code 15.2-915.

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Infowars’ Owen Shroyer made a quick stop in Richmond last night so that Trump supporters, militia and boogaloo activists, and BLM counter-protesters could wave their various flags. The police were on hand to keep the two sides separate and @FordFisher on Twitter has a thread of how the evening went down.

Interestingly a new ordinance prohibiting open carry at protests did not seem to be enforced. The law was passed in September and prohibits the carrying of guns at public events such as protests, whether the gatherings are permitted or not, and also will apply to nearby public areas such as sidewalks and roadways. Violators could face a class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500 dollars.

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