Edwards overrules legislative refusal of vaccine requirement

BAOTN ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards notified House lawmakers Tuesday that he’s adding the COVID-19 vaccine to Louisiana’s immunization schedule for schools and colleges despite their attempt to block the new regulation from taking effect.

As expected, the Democratic governor sent a letter to the House Health and Welfare Committee, notifying them that he will override their 13-2 bipartisan vote against the plan and enact it against their wishes. Some students will be required to get the vaccination for the 2022-23 school year or file paperwork to opt out of the immunization requirement.

“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. This rule does just that, and it should remain in place,” Edwards wrote to Rep. Larry Bagley, the Stonewall Republican who chairs the House health committee.

The governor’s decision is expected to prompt a lawsuit.

“While not unexpected, it’s very disappointing. We’re reviewing any and all options we might have,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican, said in a statement after the governor released his decision.

Schexnayder and Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry said they don’t believe the Edwards administration has the authority to add the coronavirus vaccine to the immunization schedule without a legislative vote.

The committee “determined that the proposed rule is not advisable, is unacceptable and is outside the scope of authority granted to LDH by the constitution and laws of this state,” the House committee said in its written objection to the governor and the Louisiana Department of Health.

Already, many of Louisiana’s colleges have begun requiring the vaccine — or an exemption request.

Under Edwards’ plan, the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine to the state immunization schedule will only apply to age groups for whom the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given full approval for the shots. Currently, that’s students 16 and older.

But that would broaden to cover younger children if the FDA grants full backing to the vaccine for more age groups.

Across a daylong committee hearing last week, some lawmakers and members of the public repeated misinformation about the risks of the coronavirus illness and the vaccine. Other lawmakers called the governor’s plan governmental overreach that meddles in family decision-making. They said they had been inundated with complaints about adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the immunization schedule for schools.

Edwards said 19 children have died from COVID-19 in Louisiana since March 2020, and he said no one in the state has died from receiving the vaccine. He criticized “misleading and conspiratorial rhetoric” about the shots at the House committee hearing. And he noted that parents and students can use the broad exemptions outlined in state law to avoid the immunization requirement.

“No child will be forced to be vaccinated against the will of his or her parents,” the governor wrote.


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