Lawmakers ignore, twist facts in COVID proposals

April 25, 2022 6:00 pm

There has been far too much polite silence and limited inquiries when some lawmakers purvey politically charged misinformation in support of their COVID-19 legislation. (Photo provided by Ochsner Health)

Members of the Louisiana Legislature pride themselves on proper decorum, especially when issues threaten to raise rancor in the Capitol. Lawmakers will go out of their way to ensure colleagues’ feelings aren’t hurt, expressing preventative remorse if there’s the slightest risk of offense.

That’s too often the tone of disagreement in the Legislature, like apologies wrapped in a caramel-filled praline. While perhaps pleasing at first taste, it’s cloyingly off putting when you’re forced to digest it repeatedly. 

Such exchanges can discourage debate on important topics and obscure facts. It’s what we see happening this session as a raft of bills deal with COVID-19. No one suggests that common courtesy be tossed aside, but there has been far too much polite silence and limited inquiries when some lawmakers purvey politically charged misinformation. Our elected representatives have a bigger obligation to seek and promote truth than they do to Miss Manners.           

Much of this disingenuous discourse and dodged controversy has surrounded recent proposals on vaccines and vaccine mandates. Take House Concurrent Resolution 3, which would kill a health department rule that added the COVID vaccine to the list of those required for school enrollment. Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a comparable bill last year, but the resolution would bypass his desk. It’s already made it out the House.       

Its sponsor is Rep. Larry Bagley, a Republican from DeSoto Parish who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee. You won’t find a soul in the Legislature who has a bad thing to say about Bagley, a.k.a. “Coach.” It’s a well-deserved reputation he’s earned in careers as an educator, insurance professional and family farmer.

But you can still love Coach and call him out when he makes an inaccurate statement.

“We don’t know how long (COVID) vaccine antibodies last,” Bagley said during a committee meeting earlier this month. 

Actually, we do and it’s why health officials have recommended boosters. From the get-go, experts have said this wouldn’t be a one-and-done cure – or even a cure at all.        

“It’s all experimental,” Bagley said in the same meeting in support of his resolution. “This is not a vaccine, it’s a shot.” 

Claims that the COVID-19 vaccines are experimental, having skipped animal testing and research trials, are patently false. This has been widely reported, and any statement otherwise could be considered a display of willful ignorance. 

Bagley and others are quick to point out the vaccine doesn’t give the recipient immunity, and on that point they are 100% accurate. No single shot, regardless of the disease, conveys instant immunity. But what vax skeptics refuse to acknowledge is that immunity is acquired through widespread use of vaccines. One single shot does not equal immunization, but the vaccine in this case is a shot.

More obfuscation unfolded in discussions over Bagley’s resolution. Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, pressed physicians who appeared before the committee to oppose the legislation for details on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Crews made the point that doctors had reported a significant number of deaths among people who had received the vaccine. As the doctors explained, VAERS requires them to report deaths even if they are not vaccine related.   

Crews was still not swayed when healthcare professionals noted the extremely low percentage of deaths linked to the vaccine among the hundreds of millions of doses administered. 

Some lawmakers have manipulated the facts in their favor. Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, did so while presenting his bill that would have required hospitals to grant privileges to outside doctors so that patients could be administered medication the hospital prohibits. It’s an effort to open the door to the widely debunked COVID treatment ivermectin.

In response to a question from a colleague, Frieman, a physical therapist turned attorney, confirmed that ivermectin is approved for human use. What he failed to disclose is that the drug is OK to prescribe for two rare conditions in humans caused by parasitic worms – not COVID.    

Frieman’s House Bill 479 remains in limbo, as lawmakers haven’t given everyone a free pass on the COVID Misinformation Express. Rep. Troy Romero, R-Jennings, sponsored a bill that would require “God-given antibodies” be recognized in the same way those in a vaccine are, and therefore anyone who’s contracted COVID-19 wouldn’t be subject to proof of vaccine standards.

“It gives you an opportunity to do what you want with your body, and it gives everybody else the opportunity to do what they want with their body,” Romero explained to the health committee. Its members snubbed the legislation after Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, pointed out the vaccine has been proven to be five times more effective than natural immunity. Also, the idea that someone would have to first catch and recover from COVID to enjoy the protection of Romero’s policy didn’t sit well with most lawmakers.

When the House debated a bill to ban government vaccine mandates last week, Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, made the point that sponsors of such proposals were now regularly refusing to take questions on the floor. 

It’s bad enough when bills are based on bad information. When their authors won’t stand behind them, that’s even worse.  


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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune |, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.