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Louisiana AG threatens legal action against college over vaccine mandate

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry says vaccine mandates at in-state colleges and universities violate student rights.

Updated: July 30, 2021 - 11:10pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is opposing vaccine mandates at in-state colleges and universities, saying they violate student rights.

Landry sent a letter this week to Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, located at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, warning of a possible lawsuit if the college doesn’t amend its vaccination policy.

“As I have previously stated, I intend to pursue legal action to protect the rights of Louisiana residents attending VCOM who have declared their objections to the coercive mandate to be vaccinated with an EU-approved [Emergency Use] vaccine,” he said.

Landry maintains that vaccine mandates violate state and federal law. He approached the college’s administration after several students said they were retaliated against for refusing to get vaccinated.

“These complaints have included recordings of conversations with VCOM staff engaging in harassing and coercive conduct targeting students who have exercised their right to opt-out of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.

The medical school disputes the attorney general’s characterization of events and says it has acted in accordance with the school’s health and legal obligations.

“The intention of VCOM’s coronavirus vaccine policy, is and always has been the safety of our students, the safety of our employees and workplace, as well as the safety of the patients being cared for by our students, faculty and staff,” VCOM said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the policy was not accurately described in the letter, which was the first communication VCOM received from the Attorney General’s office,” the statement said. “From the beginning, VCOM has committed to remain compliant with the laws of Louisiana.”

The school explained that all but three of its 300 students are vaccinated, and that it offers an exemption process for mandatory vaccines.

“The avenue to request a medical, religious, or judicially approved exemption to the policy has been made available to those students,” VCOM said, adding that dissenting students could also defer admission until the next academic year when COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be fully approved by government health agencies.

In his letter, Landry said the school’s exemption process was “structured to deny waivers.”

“VCOM has threatened the students with costly delay or abandoning of their medical education, which is clearly intended to coerce them into being vaccinated and is not necessary to protect public health. By focusing on the small number of known students who have vigorously objected, you are missing the point that the law protects this minority view,” he wrote.

Complicating matters is the school’s partnership arrangement with the University of Louisiana-Monroe, a taxpayer-funded public school. VCOM is a Virginia-based private entity with satellite medical schools in several states, including Louisiana. It occupies space at ULM and works with the university but is not part of it.

University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson has said VCOM is separate from the state higher education system and is therefore free from the attorney general’s claims. Landry disagrees.

The clash may serve as an indication of future events regarding Louisiana State University and its 34,000 students, the most of any higher education institution in the state.

The LSU faculty voted for mandatory student vaccines at the close of the spring semester, but a mandate has not yet been implemented.

A faculty resolution cites Duke, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Brown and Cornell universities as all requiring student vaccines as a condition of in-person attendance for Fall 2021. The approach would entail updating LSU’s existing immunization policy covering measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and meningococcus.

“The LSU Faculty Senate requests that PS–72 be revised to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible students wishing to enroll in in-person classes or other events on campus or implement a similar requirement via another administrative policy or procedure,” the resolution reads.

Landry confronted LSU’s then-interim President Thomas Galligan and asserted state university employees and students are protected against mandated coronavirus vaccines because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not officially approved them.

The FDA is streamlining its vaccine approval process though it’s unlikely a finalized approval will come prior to LSU’s fall semester, which begins Aug. 9. ULM's fall semester begins Aug. 16.

Landry gave VCOM until Friday, July 30, to respond to concerns outlined in his recent letter.

“It is my understanding that VCOM has advised it will determine whether the students’ objections meet VCOM’s standards sometime in the next two weeks. I would like to have an answer by close of business Friday or I will join in seeking legal protection for the students,” he said.

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