Gov. John Bel Edwards laid a foundation for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines across large sections of Louisiana on Wednesday during a virtual town hall discussion.
Louisiana has the highest coronavirus cases per capita of any state in the country and has experienced record hospitalizations this week. Edwards addressed related concerns in a question-answer format with Advocate and Times-Picayune Editor Peter Kovacs. The questions were selected from reader submissions.
When asked whether vaccinations will be required for state employees, Edwards outlined a process for requiring vaccines at state agencies and Louisiana school systems.
“That’s not under consideration unless or until the FDA grants licensure to one or more of the COVID vaccines,” Edwards said, adding, “I think that’s going to happen relatively soon, perhaps by Labor Day.”
Edwards continued: “The COVID vaccine would then work just like other vaccines that are currently mandatory. There are a number of them that are on a schedule that the [Louisiana] Department of Health requires whether it’s K-12, higher education and so forth, subject to whatever opt-out provisions are in current law.
“It would be my expectation that once full authorization or licensure is granted that the vaccines will be added to the list and work just like the current measles, mumps, rubella,” he said.
COVID-19 vaccines currently fall under emergency-use authorizations. In a dispute with Louisiana State University over an attempted student vaccine mandate, Attorney General Jeff Landry said emergency-use authorization products require “the option to accept or refuse administration of the product.”
Edwards did not concede the point during the town hall but reiterated approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would green-light COVID-19 vaccine mandates at LSU, state and local government agencies and other public employers.
Edwards further embraced private sector vaccine mandates and said non-governmental employers are within their rights to require workers to get vaccinated.
“There is a difference between private employers and state employers. While I am not saying public entities that are requiring vaccinations are acting unconstitutionally, what we know is that the Constitution is not implicated when a private employer does it,” he said.
Edwards praised the Our Lady of the Lake hospital in Baton Rouge, the flagship hospital for one of Louisiana's largest private health care chains. The facility announced Tuesday all employees must be vaccinated in the coming months or face termination.
“If you look at the timeline for their employees to come into compliance … it'll happen about the same time as full licensure is granted,” Edwards said.
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