Resolution advances that would require schools to inform students COVID-19 vaccines aren’t mandatory

    Monique Egana, an staff member at Lake Forest Charter School, gets her vaccine. Teachers and staff at Lake Forest Charter School in New Orleans East were given vaccines on school grounds on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Mardele Early)

    A resolution from Rep. Kathy Edmonston (R-Gonzales) that would have schools and universities inform parents and students that they don’t have to take a COVID-19 vaccine moved out of the Louisiana House Education Committee Wednesday without objection. There have been no proposals to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students, and, at the moment, there are no COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for people younger than 16.

    Students and parents should be informed that the “COVID-19 vaccine is for emergency use only, is experimental, and has not been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration,” reads Edmonston’s resolution. 

    Each of the three available COVID-19 vaccines has been granted an emergency-use authorization by the FDA.  Whether that means the vaccines are “experimental” is unclear. A fact-check published by Reuters says the claim that the vaccines are experimental “is not true – they have all been put through standard safety testing before being rolled out to the public.” 

    For the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be granted emergency use authorization “FDA evaluated and analyzed the safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials conducted in tens of thousands of study participants and manufacturing information submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech,” the agency says on its website. “FDA has determined that the totality of the available data provides clear evidence that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19 and support that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine’s use in millions of people 16 years of age and older, including healthy individuals.”

    The agency considers it highly unlikely that a vaccine granted emergency use authorization will not be ultimately approved, explaining on the website that it is expected that the data supporting the EUA, together with those that will be collected during use of vaccine under EUA, and additional data collected from ongoing trials will be sufficient to support licensure (approval) of a vaccine authorized under EUA.” The makers of the Pfizer vaccine announced earlier this month that it may soon be seeking complete approval.”

    “There are federal and state laws that address mandating vaccinations and medical treatment and those laws are cited in the resolution,” Edmonston said. Such laws require that any person has the right to refuse a vaccination for reasons of health, religion or conscience, she said.

    “Because people are not aware of these laws, we have brought this resolution forward,” she said. If it passes, her resolution would not have the force of law.

    According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues, the question of whether a vaccine with emergency use authorization can be mandated by a government has never been tested in court.  Some medical ethics experts have advised against such mandates.  A December opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association argues, “Mandating COVID-19 vaccines under an EUA is legally and ethically problematic….Individuals would also likely distrust vaccine mandates under emergency use, viewing it as ongoing medical research.”  

    Only 0.002% of vaccinated Louisianians have been hospitalized for COVID-19 after being vaccinated, Joe Kanter, the state’s chief medical officer, said during a Tuesday press conference. Kanter and other state health officials have repeatedly said the state’s three COVID-19 vaccines are all safe and effective.