Conservative Louisiana lawmakers ask for improvements to COVID-19 vaccine reporting

State health officials say there have been very few bad reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine

By: - November 9, 2021 11:00 am

At the vaccine injury meeting on Nov. 8, 2021, lawmakers listened to members of the public relay concerns about bad vaccine reactions.

Louisiana has recorded just 122 negative reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine, including 11 which were classified as “severe” negative reactions, out of 2.2 million vaccine series given in the state, according to the state Department of Health.

But about 15 members of the public — including members of an organization that lobbies against any government vaccine requirement — questioned whether that health department reporting is accurate during a legislative hearing in the Louisiana Capitol Monday. They relayed personal stories of getting sick after their own COVID-19 vaccination and said they thought the number of negative reactions to the shots were being underrepresented by hospitals.

Some of these speakers had also attended  previous public hearings to oppose a statewide mask mandate in schools intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. People testifying at those hearings had said paper and cloth masks were physically harmful to their own children, though thousands of children had been wearing masks to school without incident.

They had also said that COVID-19, which has killed over 14,000 Louisiana residents, was not a threat to public health and that COVID-19 vaccines, which have been administered to hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana safely, were inherently dangerous. Those same assertions were made at Monday’s meeting. 

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The Louisiana Department of Health defines severe vaccination reactions as those that require hospitalization or those that resulted in death. Theresa Sokol, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist, said no vaccine-related deaths have been reported in Louisiana. 

Sokol said reporting negative vaccine reactions is done through calling 800-256-2748, the number for the infectious disease epidemiology program, which is fully staffed by a state health department epidemiologist at all times.

Louisiana’s relatively small number of negative COVID-19 vaccine reactions is in keeping with what other states have seen in their vaccine campaigns, said Sokol and Louisiana’s state medical officer, Dr. Joe Kanter.

“We have an exemplary reporting structure in Louisiana, that’s to be honest with you, more robust than in other states,” Kanter said to lawmakers at Monday’s hearing. “And so I think we tend to get more reports in general for all types of things to our infectious disease bureau than some other states do, but I haven’t seen anything to say that our adverse events to the vaccine are out of line with what the national experience is.”

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According to Sokol, the department sent an alert out to all vaccine providers statewide that outlined the reporting process for negative vaccine reactions in December 2020, when the vaccines first became available. The department then sent guidance about negative vaccine reaction reporting  to health care providers five more times between December 2020 to May of 2021, Sokol said. She hadn’t heard of any problems with the reporting system.  

But conservative lawmakers said they had doubts — and a few nurses who testified said they hadn’t been told by their hospitals how to report negative reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“The reason why I asked for this hearing and asked for this information is because nobody knows this 800 number and it’s crazy that medical professionals across this state do not have this phone number. It’s an embarrassment for patient safety, for nursing protocol, any other protocol you have in the hospital,” state Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, said.

Liz Murrill, who works for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, also said she believed the tracking of negative COVID-19 vaccine reactions might not be accurate because of a troubling personal experience.

Murrill said she is not opposed to the vaccine, but is much more cautious after her 17-year-old son developed Myocarditis — a heart condition — from his COVID-19 vaccination. 

“I’m here as a very angry mother. I was in my office sitting here watching this testimony begin. And I heard Dr. Kanter and the other witness from LDH, who I’ve never met, give you their statistics and it really shocked me so much I got out of my chair and came over here to testify,” Murrill said.

“This is a broken system. It is not built for reporting adverse events. My son had myocarditis. He had it in May. He was in the hospital in the pediatric ICU for four days,” she said.  

Murrill’s son could be among the 11 cases of  “severe reaction” to the COVID-19 vaccine that the state has already tracked. She said health officials won’t tell her whether her son’s case is among those listed for privacy reasons, but that she’s also frustrated that there wasn’t much follow-up with her family about his case from the health department.

A small percentage of children and teens have developed myocarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, though the cases are typically mild and experts still recommend that families pursue vaccination because the risk of getting the illness is relatively low

 A common topic during the public commentary Monday was concern for children, with several speakers–mostly from anti-vaccination groups–saying they were worried about the impact vaccination would have on younger people, especially since ages five and up are newly eligible for COVID-19 vaccination

The Delta variant of the novel coronavirus increasingly impacted children across the state in the fourth surge of COVID-19 in Louisiana, which peaked around late August. During the Delta surge, nine children in Louisiana died from COVID-19.

In total, 18 children across the state died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. Since August, 25% of all new COVID-19 cases in Louisiana have been in children, the LDH reported. 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.

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