Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards adds COVID vaccine to required school shots, joining California
Gov. John Bel Edwards is moving forward with adding COVID-19 vaccines to the required list of school shots, overturning a vote from a legislative panel last week to nix the mandate recommended by the Louisiana Department of Health.
Louisiana and California are the only two states to mandate the vaccine for school children, according to testimony in Louisiana Health and Welfare Committee hearing.
Though Edwards' action will add COVID vaccines to the required list beginning next school year, parents can opt out by signing and submitting a form to their schools as they can for other required immunizations like polio and measles.
The governor sent a letter Tuesday to House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, informing him of the decision.
"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," Edwards, a Democrat, wrote in his letter. "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.”
Bagley told USA Today Network he wasn't surprised, "but I am disappointed that the governor vetoed what was clearly the bipartisan will of our committee, which is charged with oversight of this issue."
"I've taken the vaccine myself, but I don't believe it should be mandated," Bagley said. "This should be the parents' decision."
Lawmakers have no mechanism to reverse Edwards decision unless they take him to court.
The House Health Committee's 13-2 vote was led by Bagley's motion to reject. Three Democrats and an Independent joined all nine Republicans in voting against the recommendation.
But Edwards said his decision "will save lives and will help Louisiana to emerge from this pandemic."
Last week's House Health Committee 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.
Louisiana Department of Health officials said the objections are fueled by misinformation about the vaccines and COVID-19.
Public Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said such disinformation is "extremely dangerous."
No Louisiana deaths connected to the COVID-19 vaccines have been reported by the Louisiana Department of Health.
Greg Hilburn covers Louisiana politics for the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.