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PolitiFact VA: Youngkin says he supports vaccines, but he opposes mandating them

Person speaks at lectern
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe campaigns in Henrico County. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Speaker: Terry McAuliffe
Statement: “Glenn Youngkin is an anti-vaxxer.”
Date: Oct. 19, 2021
Setting: TV interview

Former and perhaps future Gov. Terry McAuliffe is not mincing his words on the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Glenn Youngkin is an anti-vaxxer,” McAuliffe, a Democrat, said of his Republican opponent for governor during an Oct. 19, 2021 television interview with WJLA in Arlington.

With little effort, we found six other TV interviews this month where McAuliffe has stamped the anti-vaxxer label on his opponent.

Youngkin says McAuliffe is telling “egregious untruths” about his stance on vaccines.

We researched McAuliffe’s claim that Youngkin is an anti-vaxxer and decided not to rate it because it’s more of an opinion than a statement of fact. Youngkin has staked a narrow middle ground, saying he supports vaccines but opposes mandates for the COVID-19 shot.

The term anti-vaxxer is politically charged. Merriam Webster defines it as “a person who opposes the use of vaccines or regulations mandating vaccination.” Let’s look at Youngkin’s position through that lens.

Does Youngkin oppose vaccines?

The answer is no. Youngkin has said repeatedly that he and his family have gotten COVID shots.

In September, Youngkin aired an ad urging people to get the COVID vaccine but added, “It’s your own choice and I respect that.”

Youngkin said in the ad, “The numbers show COVID vaccines save lives… I do hope you’ll join me in getting the vaccine. We can protect lives and livelihoods here in Virginia and together we can keep our communities, our schools and our businesses open.”

Does Youngkin oppose vaccine mandates?

The answer is yes when it comes to COVID, but no when it comes to some other vaccines.

During a Sept. 28 gubernatorial debate, moderator Chuck Todd asked Youngkin if he supported Virginia laws requiring students to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella.

“Those vaccines can be mandatory,” Youngkin said, explaining that the shots have a long track record of efficacy.

“I think the data associated with those vaccines is something that we should absolutely understand the difference between this vaccine (sic),” he said. “And we have a moment here...to help people understand the real information of this vaccine.”

The safety and effectiveness of the various COVID-19 vaccines has been backed by several meta-analyses, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been fully approved for people over 12 by the FDA.

Youngkin has criticized state universities for mandating COVID vaccines and urged students who don’t want the shots to claim exemptions.

"I’m really frustrated with our universities across Virginia who are requiring the vaccine in order to come back to class," Youngkin said on June 11. "They do have an exception policy because I actually looked at the Virginia Tech one. And I encourage people to fill it out and stand for your exemption. And when I’m elected governor, we’ll figure out how to get it fixed permanently.

“But between now and then, I think we should encourage everyone who does not want to get the vaccine for whatever reason, who has a child attending one of the universities...fill out the exemption form."

Youngkin opposes businesses mandating COVID vaccinations for their employees and vaccine passports - a written or digital identification that help businesses and events limit on-site attendance to vaccinated people.

How would Young eradicate COVID without a vaccine mandate? “As governor, Youngkin will work hard to partner with local authorities and private organizations to inform every Virginian about the benefits of the COVID vaccine so that they are empowered to make the health care decisions that are best for them and their families,” said Matt Wolking, a campaign spokesman.

McAuliffe’s position

McAuliffe backs broad mandates.

"I’ve been very out front on people getting vaccinations,'' he said during a Sept. 16 debate. "I’ve called for employers to mandate it for their employees. I’ve called for everyone who works in a hospital to be vaccinated. I’ve called for every individual who works at a long term care facility or a nursing home, everybody who works in K-12, everybody who attends higher ed. I have been very strong on this from day one."

That’s tougher than McAuliffe's statement in May that local school systems should determine their own vaccination policies.

McAuliffe has accused his opponent of placating both sides of the vaccine debate. “Glenn Youngkin is an anti-vaxxer,” he recently told WJLA. “He goes on TV or conservative radio and says, ‘You don’t want to get a vaccine, don’t do it.’”

Bottom line

McAuliffe has a basis for his opinion that Youngkin is an anti-vaxxer. On the very relevant issue of COVID shots, Youngkin opposes mandates and vows to fight them.

There’s also ample grounds to disagree with McAuliffe. Youngkin supports the use of vaccines. He says he and his family have received COVID shots, called them life savers, and has urged the public to get inoculated. And he backs longstanding requirements that students be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

We’ll leave the rest up to you.

Sources

Terry McAuliffe, WJLA interview, Oct. 19, 2021 (8:47 mark)
Glenn Youngkin, Debate comments, Sept. 28, 2021 (6:03 and 8:45 marks)
Youngkin, Vaccine ad, Sept. 1, 2021
Youngkin, Vaccine comments, June 11, 2021
McAuliffe, Debate comments, Sept. 16, 2021 (5:29 mark)
McAuliffe, WJLA interview, May 31, 2021
Merriam-Webster, Definition of “anti-vaxxer,” accessed Oct. 21, 2021
Emails from Matt Wolkings, spokesman for Youngkins campaign, Oct. 12 and Oct. 21, 2021
Email from Renzo Oliveri, spokesman for McAuliffe’s campaign, Oct. 15, 2021
Virginia Department of Health, “School and Day Care Minimum Immunization Requirements,” accessed Oct. 21, 2021
NPJ, Comparative systematic review and meta-analysis of reactogenicity, immunogenicity and efficacy of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, May 13, 2021
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Approves First COVID-19 Vaccine, Aug. 23, 2021