A panel of Louisiana lawmakers on Monday rejected a proposed rule from the Louisiana Department of Health to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the state immunization schedule for schools. Gov. John Bel Edwards can overrule that decision and has indicated he would.A spokesperson for Gov. Edwards issued the following statement regarding the hearing: “As the Governor said on Friday, he supports adding the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the immunization schedule and, barring a recommendation from public health experts, his opinion would not change. “Also, as LDH testified today in the hearing, the Department absolutely has the authority to add this vaccine to the immunization schedule, despite the misinformation presented today at the Legislature. “This vaccine is safe, it is effective and it is easily accessible across the state. Louisiana has some of the broadest opt-outs for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children, including health, religious and philosophical reasons. None of that will change when this vaccine is added to the immunization schedule.”But among those speaking against the rule at a hearing ahead of the 13-2 vote at the State Capitol was Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who argued the executive branch lacked authority to make the rule. Dozens of Republican Louisiana lawmakers testified in opposition to the rule, and heated testimony in the packed committee room lasted over six hours. The rule would apply only to COVID-19 vaccines with full FDA approval and would allow families to opt out. It would go into effect in August 2022, when FDA approval is expected to only apply to students 16 and older. Landry brought along guest speaker Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a known anti-vaccination figure, during a hearing about the rule in the House Health and Welfare Committee. Louisiana State Health Officer Joseph Kanter testified about the proposed rule, saying LDH notified legislative leadership about the proposed rule in early September, and again in early November, before lawmakers began speaking out about it. He emphasized parents can opt out of getting their children the COVID-19 vaccine by filling out a form but said vaccines are the best tool to fight back against the coronavirus pandemic. Asked if the rule would cause families to pull their children out of school, Kanter said, “Any family can opt out.” Kanter said 18 children have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana, including nine during the recent delta variant surge. He said 275 children have been diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, which is associated with COVID-19. “I can’t think of another disease on that childhood schedule that we’ve lost that many kids from. In my mind, it’s very much in the public interest– But it’s the family and the parents’ decision.”Many of the lawmakers who spoke in opposition said they received many emails or calls from parents asking them to stop the rule from moving forward. “Hundreds of emails, phone calls, stopping me at a ballgame, stopping me in the store,” said Republican State Sen. Kirk Talbot of River Ridge, of such comments, before asking the committee to reject the rule. “I believe the vaccine should be highly recommended but not mandated,” said Metairie Republican State Rep. Laurie Schlegel, who spoke about her own difficult decision to vaccinate her teenage son who has a history of health problems. “Government overreach and parental rights, that’s what we’re talking about today,” said House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Republican from Gonzales. Schexnayder and others noted the COVID-19 vaccine does not prevent children from being infected with the virus. However, Kanter said “breakthrough infections are a fact of life,” and while the vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing infection, it helps prevent it about six times more than someone who is unvaccinated. Kanter said the rule would enable the state and schools to collect data on the number of students who receive the vaccine, and those who opt out. Parents are just as divided over the possible vaccine requirement. Erika Bealer, of Slidell, is a mother of six. She told WDSU that she believes the decision to vaccinate her children should be hers alone.”To me, the school system is there to teach our children, not to make medical choices,” said Bealer. “It can’t be one size fits all because that doesn’t work.”But others in the community support the measure, including Lisa Cox.”I would support it, yes,” said Cox.Cox, a grandmother of 10, said COVID has impacted her family, personally.”My one-year-old grand baby, he ended up with COVID, and we’re assuming he got it from his brother and sister who goes to school everyday because he doesn’t go to school,” said Cox.Right now, just over 54% of residents in St. Tammany Parish are fully vaccinated.

A panel of Louisiana lawmakers on Monday rejected a proposed rule from the Louisiana Department of Health to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the state immunization schedule for schools.

Gov. John Bel Edwards can overrule that decision and has indicated he would.

A spokesperson for Gov. Edwards issued the following statement regarding the hearing:

“As the Governor said on Friday, he supports adding the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the immunization schedule and, barring a recommendation from public health experts, his opinion would not change.

“Also, as LDH testified today in the hearing, the Department absolutely has the authority to add this vaccine to the immunization schedule, despite the misinformation presented today at the Legislature.

“This vaccine is safe, it is effective and it is easily accessible across the state. Louisiana has some of the broadest opt-outs for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children, including health, religious and philosophical reasons. None of that will change when this vaccine is added to the immunization schedule.”

But among those speaking against the rule at a hearing ahead of the 13-2 vote at the State Capitol was Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who argued the executive branch lacked authority to make the rule.

Dozens of Republican Louisiana lawmakers testified in opposition to the rule, and heated testimony in the packed committee room lasted over six hours.

The rule would apply only to COVID-19 vaccines with full FDA approval and would allow families to opt out. It would go into effect in August 2022, when FDA approval is expected to only apply to students 16 and older.

Landry brought along guest speaker Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a known anti-vaccination figure, during a hearing about the rule in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Louisiana State Health Officer Joseph Kanter testified about the proposed rule, saying LDH notified legislative leadership about the proposed rule in early September, and again in early November, before lawmakers began speaking out about it. He emphasized parents can opt out of getting their children the COVID-19 vaccine by filling out a form but said vaccines are the best tool to fight back against the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked if the rule would cause families to pull their children out of school, Kanter said, “Any family can opt out.”

Kanter said 18 children have died of COVID-19 in Louisiana, including nine during the recent delta variant surge. He said 275 children have been diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, which is associated with COVID-19.

“I can’t think of another disease on that childhood schedule that we’ve lost that many kids from. In my mind, it’s very much in the public interest– But it’s the family and the parents’ decision.”

Many of the lawmakers who spoke in opposition said they received many emails or calls from parents asking them to stop the rule from moving forward.

“Hundreds of emails, phone calls, stopping me at a ballgame, stopping me in the store,” said Republican State Sen. Kirk Talbot of River Ridge, of such comments, before asking the committee to reject the rule.

“I believe the vaccine should be highly recommended but not mandated,” said Metairie Republican State Rep. Laurie Schlegel, who spoke about her own difficult decision to vaccinate her teenage son who has a history of health problems.

“Government overreach and parental rights, that’s what we’re talking about today,” said House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Republican from Gonzales.

Schexnayder and others noted the COVID-19 vaccine does not prevent children from being infected with the virus. However, Kanter said “breakthrough infections are a fact of life,” and while the vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing infection, it helps prevent it about six times more than someone who is unvaccinated.

Kanter said the rule would enable the state and schools to collect data on the number of students who receive the vaccine, and those who opt out.

After state lawmakers who are not on the health committee spoke for about two hours, members of the committee started asking questions of Kanter and other LDH officials. Questioning continued until at least 1 p.m.



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