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Gov. Edwards responds to Landry lawsuit over school vaccine requirement: 'I'm not surprised'

 Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media at his year-end press conference. Dec. 16, 2021.
Paul Braun
Gov. John Bel Edwards addresses the media at his year-end press conference. Dec. 16, 2021.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards struck back Attorney General Jeff Landry’s recent lawsuit challenging a proposed state department of health rule that would add the COVID-19 vaccinations to the required list of immunizations for Louisiana school children starting next school year.

“Obviously, I’m not surprised,” Edwards said of Landry’s most recent lawsuit before adding that he did not think the attorney general made a valid argument challenging the proposed rule or the administration’s roll out.

Republican state lawmakers and elected officials, including Landry, have vocally opposed the proposed rule change since it was announced last month by the Louisiana Department of Health.

After an hours-long public hearing last week, the Republican-controlled House Health and Welfare Committee voted 13-2 to block the new rule from taking effect — even though state law gives the governor ultimate authority over the implementation of the LDH rule changes as the chief executive in the state.

On Tuesday, Edwards informed the committee in a letter that he was moving forward despite their objections.

Landry argued in court filings submitted Wednesday that the provision of state law is unconstitutional. Edwards dismissed those arguments.

“We’re going to let the courts sort it out, but I fully expect at the end of the day the Administrative Procedures Act will be upheld, [and] my role in this rule promulgation would be as well,” Edwards said.

A hearing date has not been set.

As written, the LDH vaccine requirement only applies to vaccines that have been fully approved by the FDA, meaning only school children age 16 and up would have to get the shots until federal regulators grant full approval for the vaccine in younger children. The rule would apply to public and private K-12 schools, colleges, universities, kindergartens, pre-schools, day care centers and vocational schools.

But state law also allows broad exemptions for parents and adult students who submit a written request for accommodation for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.

“So, knowing that parents are in ultimate control of this makes it very easy for me to side with the FDA, the CDC, the Office of Public Health here in Louisiana,” Edwards said, adding that he found the conspiracy theories that ran rampant during last week’s House Health and Welfare Committee hearing on the rule “particularly unpersuasive.”

Since the COVID-19 vaccines were first made available in Louisiana, Edwards and administration officials indicated that the shots would eventually become a part of schools’ required schedule of immunizations, like the shots for measles, mumps and rubella, tetanus and polio.

“We know that for the last six months or so, at least 25% of all of our cases have been among children below the age of 18,” Edwards said. “We know 18 of those children have died. We know hundreds more have been in the hospital (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), many with multisystem inflammatory syndrome for children. And they’re also a huge contributor to transmission in Louisiana to people who are actually more vulnerable.”

Edwards criticized Landry and others who have spread misinformation about vaccines and consistently challenged Edwards and public health officials’ efforts to undermine COVID-19 mitigation measures and decrease confidence in the vaccines.

“How great it would be if the people who have spent so much time, effort and energy trying to undermine confidence in the public in vaccines, how great it would have been if they had put the same time, effort and energy into promoting vaccinations,” Edwards said. “We’d be much further along.”

Edwards comments came at his end of the year press conference, in which the second-term Democrat reflected on the state’s continued fight against COVID-19, a disease that has killed more than 14,000 Louisianans since arriving in the state in March 2020.

Despite the widespread availability of vaccines, more than 500,000 Louisianans have tested positive with COVID-19 in 2021, and more than 8,000 ultimately died from the disease this year.

“We talk about numbers as if they’re not real people,” Edwards said. “All of these are our mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and children — they’re our neighbors.”

Edwards noted that Louisiana’s statewide vaccination rate lags far behind the national average and that only 25% of eligible Louisianans have received booster doses.

Landry has successfully challenged the Biden administration’s workplace vaccine mandates issued through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but Landry’s challenges to Edwards’ COVID-19 rules have consistently fallen flat in the courts. He has also challenged mask mandates in Louisiana’s schools.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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