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Bill Banning Vaccine Mandates At Public Universities And Agencies Heads to Governor

 A worker prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. March 4, 2021.
A worker prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. March 4, 2021.

A bill that would bar COVID-19 vaccine requirements at public agencies, including colleges, universities and schools, is headed for the governor’s signature.

HB 498 would prohibit government agencies and officials from distinguishing between people based on whether they’ve been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the strain of the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. The only exceptions are those vaccinations already required by law.

But under amendments hammered out on the final day of the legislative session, the measure only applies to vaccines until they’re given full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bill now also only applies to COVID-19 vaccines. The original language of the bill banned any vaccine mandate for any future virus.

It passed the Republican-led statehouse by a vote of 71 to 28 in the House and 25 to 10 in the Senate.

The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Kathy Edmonston, has said the bill will “prohibit discrimination based on vaccine or immunity status.”

It comes amid a national debate over mandating COVID-19 vaccinations in grade schools and higher education. Some Louisiana universities have already said they’ll require COVID-19 shots for students returning in the fall, and LSU faculty have been pushing for a similar vaccine mandate.

Louisiana is tied with Alabama for the second-lowest vaccination rates in the nation. Mississippi is the least-vaccinated state.

Edmonston’s measure is part of a handful of anti-vaccine bills passed by lawmakers this session.

Another measure by Edmonston bans vaccine status from drivers’ licenses. A bill authored by Rep. Danny McCormick, a Republican, protects businesses from civil liability if they don’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines and bars government agencies from denying permits or licenses based on whether an entity has instituted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has enforced various public health restrictions throughout the pandemic despite statewide Republican backlash, has not commented on whether he’ll sign the bills.

Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio