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K-12 school leaders across Louisiana are still reluctant to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for older students, even after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer vaccine full approval for use in adults and older children Monday.
Kevin Litten, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health, said that individual schools could require the vaccine, but it’s not on the statewide required vaccination status list for schools yet. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he intends to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the state vaccine list, though he hasn’t indicated when that might happen.
Even when added, Louisiana law allows for vaccine exemption if the student or student’s guardian submits either a written dissent, or written statement from a physician stating that the vaccination is not advised for medical reasons.
The Pfizer vaccine is still also only approved on an emergency basis for the majority of K-12 students. The full authorization granted Monday only applies to the vaccine’s use in people over 15 years old.
Without action from the governor, a vaccine requirement in K-12 schools is unlikely.
The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has no plans to mandate the vaccine, according to the board’s spokesman Kevin Calbert.
“The Board’s current position is that local school districts have the authority and responsibility to enact COVID-19-related requirements appropriate for their school facilities when no mandate by the governor is in effect. There has been no discussion or action by BESE related to COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.
Vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 mitigation measures have been greeted with widespread protest across the state. The last BESE meeting on enforcing school mask mandates ended early because of protests and audience members’ refusal to put on masks.
The Delta variant has been increasingly affecting a younger demographic, with children vulnerable to this more infectious variant.
From Aug. 9 to Aug. 15, the first week of the school year, 2,444 COVID-19 cases were reported among students and staff. More cases were reported during that week than any other week of the last school year. Edwards said in a Friday press conference that Louisiana schools reported 5,328 cases among students and 750 cases among staff members in just two weeks.
Jackie Tisdell, spokeswoman for Ascension Public Schools, said the district doesn’t currently mandate COVID-19 vaccines for either students or staff, and that she was unable to comment on a future potential mandate.
Letrece R. Griffin, spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, said her system does not have a mandate in place either for staff or students. Instead, the system will begin weekly COVID-19 testing for employees and optional student testing.
Jefferson Parish Public Schools are also not considering a vaccine mandate, though JPS Chief of Staff Gabrielle Misfeldt said vaccination was encouraged.
“We are not mandating a vaccine at this time, but we’ve advocated for vaccine access for our employees, students and families since they first became available and we continue to partner with our medical and community organizations to provide vaccine resources and opportunities to our employees and our families,” Misfeldt said.
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