COVID-19 vaccine to be required for most public university students

Most Louisiana public universities will require the COVID-19 vaccine this fall, though a liberal vaccine exemption policy offered through state law will also make it easy for students to circumvent those mandates.

The University of Louisiana system, Southern University system and LSU Shreveport will require the vaccine. LSU’s two health sciences centers, its main campus in Baton Rouge and LSU Alexandria will not.

LSU officials declined to say why they weren’t requiring the vaccine on most campuses, and LSU Eunice hasn’t responded to questions about its vaccine policy.

On campuses where the vaccine won’t be required, LSU is still “strongly encouraging” vaccination and will provide the shots through student health centers. Students and employees at LSU’s health sciences centers in Shreveport and New Orleans will also have to disclose their vaccination status, said Chris Winters, vice chancellor for clinical affairs at LSU Health New Orleans.

But even on campuses where the vaccine is required, Louisiana law allows students and employees to easily claim an exemption to any vaccine for medical, religious or philosophical reasons by simply saying they object to it.

The reluctance to require medical students to get vaccinated could be the result of a high-profile settlement that centered on that same vaccine exemption law last year.

In 2021, three students at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, which operates on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, sued over the school’s COVID-19 policy, which required the students to be vaccinated in order to participate in training needed to graduate. A judge initially sided with the students and the school eventually settled the lawsuit, allowing the unvaccinated students to participate in coursework.

The COVID-19 vaccine was also added to the list of required vaccines for all K-12 schools and higher education institutions in the 2022-2023 school year, but then removed from it a few weeks later.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration explained that the vaccine requirement was nixed because it had not received full federal approval for use in those under the age of 16, which they had expected to happen before the school year started. The governor was also under immense pressure from Republican lawmakers, who introduced several pieces of legislation pushing back against vaccine requirements.

Youth vaccination rates in Louisiana, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, regardless of age, lag behind those of older residents. Just 40% of Louisiana residents aged 12-17 have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are fully approved for those age 18 and up.

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