Louisiana House panel rejects COVID vaccine mandate in schools, but governor will move forward with requirement

·3 min read
Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, right, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testify against adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school shots.
Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, right, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testify against adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school shots.

A Louisiana legislative panel Monday rejected the state health agency's recommendation to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school shots, but that won't stop Gov. John Bel Edwards from adding the jab to the immunization schedule for students.

If Edwards vetoes the House Health and Welfare Committee's action and adds the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required shots as expected, parents can opt out by signing and submitting a form to their schools as they can for other required shots.

"It's important to embrace the science and not engage in misinformation," Edwards said Friday when asked about proposed vaccine requirement.

The House Health Committee's bipartisan 13-2 vote was led by Republican Committee Chair Larry Bagley's motion to reject. Three Democrats and an Independent joined all nine Republicans in voting against the recommendation. Democratic Reps. Robby Carter of Amite and Dustin Miller of Opelousas were the only no votes.

Monday's hearing was packed with people primarily opposing the mandate, which would currently only cover students 16 and older but could expand as the vaccines get the highest level of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Association.

Parent Ashley Rivera called the proposal "tyranny" and said it "feels like we're losing all our rights."

Louisiana Department of Health officials said the objections are fueled by misinformation about the vaccines and COVID-19.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an adamant COVID-19 vaccine critic who has been banned from social media sites because of spreading what the platforms deemed as immunization misinformation, was among those who testified.

Kennedy, an environmental attorney, was invited to the hearing by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, who also testified against the mandate.

Louisiana Public Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said Kennedy's assertion that the shot is the "deadliest vaccine ever made" is a dangerous lie.

"It's a gross misrepresentation," Kanter said. "I find disinformation like that to be extremely dangerous."

No Louisiana deaths connected to the COVID-19 vaccines have been reported by the Louisiana Department of Health.

Landry contended neither the Louisiana Department of Health nor Edwards has the legal authority to add the vaccine to the required school shot list, though agency officials quoted laws that contradicted the attorney general's opinion.

Even lawmakers on the committee opposing the vaccine mandate seemed to concede the Legislature gave the health agency the authority to make vaccine decisions.

Many legislators said they don't oppose vaccines, but they oppose "vaccine mandates."

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales opened the hearing with testimony objecting to the proposed rule.

Schexnayder and other lawmakers said the COVID-19 vaccines are different from other vaccines currently required by schools because they don't "prevent anyone from getting or passing on the disease," referring to breakthrough cases.

"This is a line in the sand," Schexnayder said of rejecting the requirement.

But Kanter said there are also vaccine breakthrough cases for diseases like mumps and smallpox, both of which are on the list of required school shots. He vaccines for smallpox and measles are the only shots that provide complete immunity.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana House panel rejects COVID vaccine mandate in schools