By Brandon Jarvis

RICHMOND – Republican lieutenant governor nominee Winsome Sears is now taking a more aggressive approach in her messaging around the COVID-19 vaccine with the virus surging across Virginia. Her latest comments are much more direct than what she said just a few weeks ago.

“We have got to leave people be,” Sears said in a radio interview less than three weeks ago on July 20. ”If you want to get the vaccine, get the vaccine. If you don’t want to get the vaccine, whatever. Take precautions and do what you need to do and keep yourself safe.”

In a statement provided to Virginia Scope Friday, however, Sears encouraged Virginians to get the vaccine while still pushing back against the idea of any government mandate. “We do not support vaccine passports, but encourage everyone who can get the vaccine to get it,” Sears said. ”We are confident Virginians are capable in making safe and smart decisions for themselves. We cannot go back to shutdowns and lockdowns, we must move forward in a safe way. Science is on our side. Get vaccinated. If you choose not to – please take responsibility. Wear a mask and remain safe.”

Virginia is currently reporting a seven-day average of 1,469 new COVID-19 cases each day.

Governor Northam recently announced that state employees will be required to get the vaccine by Sept. 1 or face weekly COVID-19 tests. He also indicated that a new law in Virginia will require schools districts to follow CDC guidance on masks for students and staff. 

This latest COVID-19 surge is what led in part to this shift in vaccine rhetoric from Sears. “As we grow to know more and more about this virus and its variants, it appears that COVID isn’t in retreat, and is still here,” said Mike Allers, a spokesperson for the Sears campaign. “We can’t go back into lockdown, so it’s in Virginians’ best interest to be encouraged to take precautions.” 

Democrats are blaming Republicans and their hesitance to encourage vaccine participation earlier this year as a key factor in this surge. Sears’ opponent called her out directly in a statement to Virginia Scope. 

“The anti-vaccination lies that Winsome Sears and her political allies are spreading are dangerous and will cost Virginians their lives,” said Hala Ayala, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “Protecting yourself and your community by getting vaccinated is not a partisan issue — it’s a matter of life or death. I have been vaccinated and I can tell you firsthand it is safe and effective.” 

The Sears campaign denied spreading any misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. “In no way is our campaign spreading anti-vaccination lies,” Allers said in a statement Sunday. “We encourage everyone who is able to get the vaccine. If you choose not to for personal or religious reasons, please remain safe and wear a mask. The only dangerous and reckless behavior is coming from the Democratic ticket who are proposing to take us back to lockdowns and keeping schools closed.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin recently made a public statement indicating that he himself has received the vaccine. “Data show the COVID vaccine saves lives,” Youngkin tweeted earlier this month. “That’s why I chose to get the vaccine. Virginians have the right to decide for themselves, but if you are in a high-risk category, I especially encourage you to get vaccinated.”

While Ayala said she has already received the COVID-19 vaccine, Sears has not publicly stated whether she received it or not. 

Sears and Ayala are facing off to fill the seat being vacated by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax at the end of his term this January. If Sears were to win, the Democratic majority of 21-19 would become even tighter as the lieutenant governor casts tie-breaking votes in their role as President of the Senate. 

Early voting for the Nov. 2 election begins on Sept. 17. 

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By vascope

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