Bills to weaken Louisiana vaccine mandates advance in Legislature

Multiple anti-vaccination bills deferred by House committee and in the chamber

By: - April 12, 2022 7:56 pm
Louisiana House votes to ban ‘vaccine passports’ that don’t exist yet

A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington D.C. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

An attempt to prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates by Louisiana schools and all levels of government has gained momentum in the Legislature, although proponents’ arguments for doing so have been based on misinformation.

Two pieces of legislation that would weaken such mandates advanced from the House Health and Welfare committee Tuesday morning. One resolution would remove the COVID-19 vaccine from the state health department’s immunization schedule and require schools to allow unvaccinated students to join classes in person.

Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewell, author of the resolution and chair of the committee, said the COVID-19 vaccine is “experimental” and “we know it has bad effects.”

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. About five out of every one million COVID-19 vaccinations have led to severe allergic reactions, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There have also been 60 confirmed reports – out of 18.6 million total – of people developing thrombocytopenia syndrome, which causes blood clots in large blood vessels, after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In December, the House Health Committee ​​voted 13-2 to reject adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations for K-12 schools, daycare centers and higher education institutions. The Louisiana Department of Health added it anyway.

Louisiana law also gives parents a straight-forward way to circumvent school vaccine requirements. Parents can exempt a child from taking a vaccine by submitting written dissent to the requirement or a note from a physician saying the vaccine is not medically advisable. 

The health committee also voted 12-5 in favor of a bill that would prevent the state and local governments from issuing proof of COVID-19 vaccination requirements for entry into schools, restaurants and businesses in Louisiana.

Committee members also rejected multiple anti-vaccine bills Tuesday. One of which would have allowed proof of having COVID-19 antibodies from a recent infection be “treated and recognized as being vaccinated.” The bill failed in a 7-10 vote.

Another proposal to prohibit vaccines labeled under “emergency use authorization” from being added to the health department’s immunization schedule was rejected 6-10.

On the Louisiana House floor Tuesday afternoon, Bagley deferred another bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for a school or government entity to ask someone about their vaccination status. Lawmakers raised questions about the practicality of proposed law and how it would be enforced.

An example Bagley provided was a public entity asking an employee if they’ve been vaccinated.

“So we’re actually criminalizing free speech?” Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, asked Bagley.

“Yes,” Bagley replied. “Once it’s criminalized, they’ll quit asking that question,” he later said.

Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, also questioned how fines on local governments included in the bill would work.

“So, the local government would levy a fine upon itself and then get the money right back?” Willard asked.

“Well, if they’re the ones that asked (about vaccination status), I guess so,” Bagley said, repeatedly turning to a legislative staff attorney for clarity on his bill when questions continued.

Legislators also raised concerns with making it a crime to ask someone about their vaccine status and citing a government employee who was simply carrying out their job. 

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.