Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards confirmed he is moving forward with adding COVID-19 vaccines to the required list of school immunizations, despite the state’s House Health and Welfare Committee voting to reject the proposal at a hearing last week.
In a letter (pdf) to the House Committee on Health and Welfare Chairman Larry Bagley on Dec. 14, the governor said he disapproved of the committee’s rejection, and he plans to allow the rule to go into effect because it will “save lives” and help the state emerge from the pandemic.
Under the proposed amendment, SARS-CoV-2 shots would be added to the list of required vaccinations for school entry. Vaccinations and all potential boosters would also be required for school attendance. The rule will go into effect beginning with the 2022–23 school year.
The requirement would only apply to age groups for whom the FDA has given full approval of the vaccine, which is currently ages 16 and up, unless expanded.
Parents will still be able to exempt their children from being vaccinated against COVID-19 by claiming religious, medical, or philosophical reasons via a written dissent. Claims for exemptions due to medical reasons should be done via submission of a written statement from a physician stating that such vaccination is contraindicated for medical reasons.
“I understand that any issue around COVID-19, especially those that involve our children, can be divisive, I ask that you and your colleagues work with me to get more people in Louisiana vaccinated,” Edwards wrote to the committee chair.
“It is worth noting that while many of the diseases on the public health immunization schedule were once both rampant and deadly, they are no longer serious risks for school age children in Louisiana. This is true because almost everyone was vaccinated against these diseases, many as a condition for attending elementary school,” Edwards wrote.
“One can only imagine where we would be as a state if the same overheated rhetoric from last week’s meeting was applied to Polio or Measles. The development of the COVID-19 vaccines in time to help us put this pandemic behind us also requires us to do everything we can to add COVID-19 to the list of diseases that no longer pose a serious threat,” Edwards said.
The governor also pointed to official figures stating that over 770,000 people in Louisiana have tested positive for coronavirus, while almost 15,000 have died from the disease in the last 22 months, 19 of which were under the age of 18.
“By contrast, there have only been 12 significant adverse events related to vaccine administration in Louisiana with zero deaths,” he wrote. “By any measure, the COVID-19 vaccines have been a historic success.”
The House Health and Welfare Committee, led by Bagley, voted 13—2 last week to reject the proposal.
“There was absolutely no way we were going to let this happen,” Bagley wrote on Facebook at the time.
Bagley told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser he wasn’t surprised that Edwards has decided to move forward with the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, but noted that, “I am disappointed that the governor vetoed what was clearly the bipartisan will of our committee, which is charged with oversight of this issue.”
“I’ve taken the vaccine myself, but I don’t believe it should be mandated,” Bagley said. “This should be the parent’s decision.”
It is unclear if lawmakers will now pursue further court action against the mandate.
Currently, California is the only state mandating that children receive the COVID-19 vaccine for school entry in 2022, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.