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Ochsner nurse Da'Nique Richard in this May 21, 2021 file photo prepares COVID-19 vaccines at the Mid-City New Orleans. 

The LSU Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a resolution Friday asking the Louisiana Department of Health to add the COVID vaccines to the list of shots required before students can attend public schools, colleges, and universities.

Supervisor Jay Blossman, of Mandeville, said he was uncomfortable with the university sending a message to the state that could lead to making students get vaccinated for COVID.

“It gives me heartburn,” Blossman said, adding it should be a personal choice. “If you’re worried about the COVID, get the shot.”

The Board’s resolution acknowledges the concerns raised by faculty and students, requests the health department to consider adding the COVID vaccines to the required list, and encourages voluntary vaccinations on LSU campuses.

The Board’s Academic and Research Committee voted 4-3 to advance the resolution after much, and often, heated discussion. Then at the end of the hearing, the full board summarily approved all other matters advanced by committees during the Board’s meeting in Alexandria – except for the resolution. The board discussed the matter further, added language that LSU would also inform students of their legal rights to opt out of any vaccination, then approved the resolution on a 9-2 vote, with several supervisors not voting.

Usually matters before the 16-member board that sets policies for the LSU colleges and universities are handled with unanimous consent and little conversation. The board, for instance, accepted the contract for incoming LSU president, William F. Tate IV, and outgoing LSU Health Shreveport Chancellor Dr. Ghali E. Ghali in a matter of minutes without much comment.

State law already requires students to have been vaccinated against a lot of maladies such as polio, smallpox and diphtheria, before being allowed to attend. They can opt out for religious and medical reasons.

But the COVID vaccines were only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on an emergency basis and can’t unilaterally be added to the required list until fully approved, General Counsel Winston DeCuir told the board.

In addition to state law, DeCuir pointed out that House Bill 498, which passed the Legislature and is sitting on the governor’s desk, prohibits discrimination against those seeking state services based on COVID vaccination status, and House Resolution 20 requires schools to inform parents and students that they can opt out of getting vaccinated for COVID.

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“So right now, the landscape is that there are laws to allow public schools to mandate vaccination but that requires approval by the Louisiana Department of Health,” he said.

Attorney General Jeff Landry recently said he would likely sue the Board if the COVID vaccination were made mandatory at LSU.

Faculty and student groups passed resolutions asking LSU leadership to require COVID vaccinations, as have been required as a condition of enrollment at many private schools around the country. Some states have allowed their public universities to require the shots, including Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and Virginia, but none of the Deep South states have.

LSU President Tom Galligan said 73% of LSU’s faculty have been vaccinated and 56% of the staff have. But only 26% of the students have received the shot.

The LSU Board also formally accepted the employment contract of William Tate IV as LSU’s new president with applause and little discussion beyond outgoing President Tom Galligan saying, “Yay.’

Tate’s five-year contract begins July 6. He’ll be paid $725,000 per year base salary, plus receive an annual $35,000 housing allowance, and a $15,000 per year vehicle allowance.

With much less levity, the Board then approved Dr. Ghali E. Ghali stepping down as chancellor of the LSU medical school, returning to the faculty and being paid the remainder of his contract. His contract expires in December.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.