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COVID vaccine will no longer be required for 2022-23 school year in Louisiana, officials say

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Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
A student receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School on Jan. 27, 2022.

The Louisiana Department of Health will no longer require the state’s day care, K-12 and college students to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting in the 2022-23 school year, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced during a WRKF radio program on Wednesday.

The governor said the state agency is not adding the coronavirus vaccine to the schools’ immunization list, as they proposed in late 2021, because the shot has yet to receive full FDA approval for people under the age of 16. The vaccine, however, is authorized by the FDA for emergency use in children 5 years and older.

“When LDH began the standard process of adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the school immunization schedule, we expected more age groups would have full FDA approval in advance of the 2022-2023 school year,” LDH said in an emailed statement. “The FDA has not yet fully approved the COVID-19 vaccine for those under the age of 16; therefore, at the start of the 2022 school year, students in Louisiana will not be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We have the utmost confidence in the rigorous FDA processes; however, they do take time.”

The agency instead strongly recommended that children who are eligible still receive the COVID-19 vaccine, especially as health officials track another surge in the state due to an omicron subvariant.

Only 24% of children ages 5 to 17 are fully vaccinated, according to the state. The full vaccination rate for children in New Orleans is significantly better at 51%, though that is still much smaller than the city’s percentage of adults who are fully vaccinated, which is at 77%

New Orleans Public Schools is the only district in the state that already requires students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Because the district doesn’t need state permission to mandate such a policy, the state health department’s announcement shouldn’t impact the requirement already in place in New Orleans schools.

"NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) supports the Louisiana Department of Health’s (LDH) recent recommendation to have all eligible children vaccinated,” said district spokesperson Taslin Alfonso in an email. “Our vaccination requirement is still in effect for all students 5 years of age and above."

NOLA-PS added the coronavirus shot to its list of immunizations back in February, before the return of Mardi Gras celebrations. Though school officials have said the policy is mandatory, its enforcement has been questionable per a previous report from New Orleans Public Radio.

Louisiana law allows families to opt out of mandatory vaccines by claiming a medical, religious or philosophical exemption.

Exemptions were filed on behalf of more than 3,500 New Orleans public school students before the district’s policy took effect, according to data shared by NOLA-PS. By the Feb. 1 deadline, 5,676 students were partially vaccinated and 17,820 students were fully vaccinated out of the roughly 44,000 students enrolled in the district.

The proposed mandatory vaccine policy from LDH has been met with criticism from the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and other GOP officials and even resulted in a lawsuit from Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has vocally opposed just about any COVID restriction enforced by city and state officials.

“Faced with losing a court case or losing a legislative vote, the governor has evidently walked back yet another of his COVID overreaches,” Landry said in a statement following the announcement. “The governor and his allies in the Legislature tried many maneuvers, but apparently the will and the voice of the people were too much to handle."

Some lawmakers on a legislative health committee also tried to repeal the proposed rule more than a week ago but failed.

Very few states have mandated that students get vaccinated against COVID-19. California, Illinois, New York, D.C. and Louisiana were the only states with policies in place as of early May, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

Mandates in Illinois and New York only apply to college students. Similar to Louisiana’s original policy, mandates in California and D.C. only take effect once the vaccine has received full FDA approval for the student’s age group.

News Director Patrick Madden contributed to this article.