House lawmakers reject vaccine reporting requirement for coroners

Bill would require coroners to report deaths 60 days after vaccinations regardless of evidence

By: - May 17, 2022 8:34 am
House lawmakers reject vaccine reporting requirement for coroners

(Getty Images/Javier Zayas Photography)

Although the coronavirus has largely taken a backseat to other issues in the Louisiana Legislature’s 2022 regular session, House lawmakers on Monday entertained but ultimately rejected a proposal that opponents criticized for perpetuating disinformation about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. 

House Bill 915, sponsored by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, failed in a House floor vote of 30-61. All 30 votes in favor of the proposal came from Republicans, while 28 other Republicans voted against it. 

The bill would require coroners in Louisiana to file Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) reports whenever someone dies within 60 days of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine regardless of whether the coroner finds any evidence that the death may have been related to the vaccine. Crews said the requirement would apply to deaths in which the cause is suspicious or not immediately apparent. Obvious deaths such as homicides, suicides and accidents would be exempt from the requirement.

VAERS is a public database of adverse events and symptoms that happen after vaccination. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control uses it as an early warning system for any new or unknown side effects that might be related to vaccines. Healthcare professionals are required to report certain adverse events that occur after COVID-19 vaccination, but any member of the public can submit a report to VAERS. 

VAERS data is available to the public, but the CDC cautions that VAERS alone should not be used to interpret or conclude that a vaccine caused an illness or injury because the “reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable” and often lack context. 

Despite those warnings, some have misused VAERS data to support false claims about COVID-19 vaccines. According to an article in Science, a Fox News host received backlash in May 2021 after he claimed 4,000 people had died after getting COVID-19 vaccines and added the data “comes from VAERS.”

The CDC subsequently found no evidence linking any of the deaths to the vaccines, but the false claim spurred a new phalanx of anti-vaccine activists to begin “plumbing VAERS for data to scare the public,” Science reported. Even if it had linked all of the deaths to the vaccines, it would represent just 0.0017% of the more than 285 million doses administered in the U.S. at that time.

Presenting his bill on the House floor Tuesday, Crews said it was “intended to be a net” to make sure potential vaccine deaths were being reported to VAERS. 

The original version of the bill would have required coroners to file VAERS reports on all deaths within 60 days of vaccination, but an amendment excluded obvious deaths from the requirement. Crews said the revision was made to address concerns from the Louisiana Coroners Association. As he was explaining that, Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, interjected to say she had just received word from the coroners’ group that they were still “in full opposition” to the bill.

Arguing against the bill, Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, said the legislation made “a lot of assumptions,” and other House Democrats argued it might create an unfunded mandate for coroners. 

As debate was unfolding, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ spokesperson Christina Stephens criticized the bill on Twitter, pointing out there is zero evidence linking the vaccines to deaths in Louisiana. Edwards, a Democrat, has butted heads with Republican lawmakers on many pandemic-related issues. Stephens later told the Illuminator that such legislation can perpetuate disinformation. 

“In general, we worry that legislation that falsely links COVID vaccines to deaths can give the impression that they are not safe,” Stephens said. “VAERS reporting is central to the monitoring of vaccines, but simply filing a report because someone died 60 days after being vaccinated would lead to excess reports that are completely unrelated to the safety of the vaccine.” 

Surpassing 1 million deaths nationwide Monday, the coronavirus has killed more than three times the number of Americans killed in World War II and in half the time. 

With more than 11.7 billion shots administered to people across 184 countries so far, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign is the largest in human history, according to Bloomberg’s coronavirus tracker.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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