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COVID vaccines added to Louisiana school shots list by Gov. John Bel Edwards

 A vaccinator draws a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Phoebe Jones
A vaccinator draws a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is moving forward with a Louisiana Department of Health plan to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of required immunizations for Louisiana school children, overriding the Republican-controlled state legislative committee that voted against the rule last week.

In a letter to House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall), Edwards said the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and the most effective way to end the pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 800,000 Americans and more than 15,000 Louisianans in less than two years.

“Despite the misleading and conspiratorial rhetoric provided at the House Health and Welfare meeting last week, this rule does not force ‘experimental shots’ on children,” Edwards wrote.

The proposed rule would take effect for the 2022 school year and only requires vaccines that have been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

While the COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for emergency use in children as young as 5, the vaccine has only won full federal approval for individuals age 16 and up. If and when the vaccine is granted full federal approval for younger children, the LDH mandate would apply for those populations as well. The policy could eventually cover daycare through higher education.

But even with the mandate in place, Louisiana offers exemptions for families who object to the vaccine for medical, religious, personal or philosophical reasons. Edwards noted that the exemptions offered in the state have long been in place and are among the broadest in the nation.

The House Health and Welfare Committee’s 13-2 vote to reject an LDH rule that would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the immunization schedule for K-12 students was a largely symbolic gesture. The committee did not have the ultimate authority over the implementation of the LDH rule change.

That authority lies with Edwards, who has consistently spoken in favor of adding the COVID-19 vaccines to the immunization schedule since news of the rule change broke last month.

“By any measure, the COVID-19 vaccines have been a historic success,” Edwards wrote Tuesday in his letter to Bagley. “However, we know that there have been far too many of our friends and neighbors who have yet to be vaccinated. This includes school age children who do have a risk of serious illness and death.”

Edwards noted that among the 15,000 Louisianans killed by COVID-19, 19 of the victims were children under the age of 18. By comparison, only 12 severe adverse reactions to the vaccine have been reported among the state’s more than 2.5 million vaccine recipients.

LDH officials pushed back against misinformation spread during last week’s hours-long committee hearing and said that the rule change was not intended to limit parent choice, but rather to send the message that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

In his letter to Bagley, Edwards continued to push back against the committee’s “misleading and conspiratorial rhetoric” about the proposed rule and the vaccines themselves.

Edwards asked Bagley and his Republican colleagues to work to get more people vaccinated in Louisiana.

“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,” Edwards wrote. “This is true because almost everyone was vaccinated against these diseases, many as a condition for attending elementary school. 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.”

Education Reporter Aubri Juhasz contributed to this report.
Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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