FILE - Classroom

(The Center Square) – There is “no chance” West Virginia will impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public school children, Gov. Jim Justice said when appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Although the governor is encouraging all eligible West Virginians to get vaccinated against the virus, he said the government still needs to respect personal liberty and parental rights in these decisions.

“I truly believe that the mandates only divide us and only divide us more,” Justice said. “From the standpoint of mandates, I don’t believe in imposing upon our freedoms … but from the standpoint of our children, I’m going to still encourage [them to get vaccinated] … but at the same time, I’m still going to stand up for who we are. For crying out loud, we’re Americans.”

The state has not mandated facemasks for public school children, but has instead allowed localities to develop their own plans. Virtually all of the local governments have imposed mask mandates.

As of now, California is the only state to require COVID-19 vaccines for students.

Those who receive the vaccine are less likely to contract COVID-19 and those who still get it are less likely to have serious cases. Death and serious illness from COVID-19 are extremely rare for children and other young people, but the risk increases if the person has a compromised immune system or other health condition. The risks also increase as a person gets older.

Justice has received criticism for the state’s low COVID-19 vaccination rates compared to the rest of the country. Last month, cases, hospitalizations, ICU patients and use of ventilators hit their peak for the pandemic, but in the past week they have been on the decline. Although hospitalization rates were high, Justice said he is managing it well, hospitals are not being overrun, people are not being turned away and the state has not needed to suspend elective surgeries or procedures.

Nearly 67% of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and less than 59% are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates are higher for the elderly: about 91% of people aged 65 and older have received at least one dose and nearly 81% are fully vaccinated.

Any person 12 years of age or older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the federal government is expected to approve vaccination for children as young as five shortly.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.