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Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, left, speaks with Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, during the legislative session earlier this year. 

Despite the advice of medical experts, 14 Republican House members Monday questioned the need for children ages 5-11 to get the coronavirus vaccine in what could be the opening salvo in a new round of controversy.

The views were included in a letter from lawmakers to state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley on how schools should handle the vaccine for Louisiana's youngest students. "The likelihood of children of this age group with no comorbidities to survive from COVID is 99.9973%," the lawmakers said in their letter, dated Nov. 1.

"Their immune system is more robust. The number one risk factor for COVID is age," according to the letter.

But Dr. Joseph Bocchini, vice-president of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said he would strongly recommend that eligible children get the vaccine. "And I want to first correct the misunderstanding that this is not a serious disease for young children," said Bocchini, who is also professor of pediatrics at Tulane University.

He said 6.2 million children have been infected with COVID and over 700 have died, including 170 ages 5-11.

"We have ample evidence that this is a vaccine preventable disease," Bocchini said.

The Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29 authorized emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

The next step is review by an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is scheduled for Tuesday, including who should get the shot, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The director of the CDC must approve any recommendations of the advisory panel before they take effect.

The letter is signed by a group of GOP lawmakers who have criticized pandemic-related mitigation measures for months, including state Reps. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales; Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs; and House Majority Leader Blake Miguez, of Erath.

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"We would note COVID, like influenza, is not a vaccine preventable disease and according to (state law) it should not be placed on the list of required immunizations for students," the letter says.

"Should any school district, medical professional or government agency arrange a vaccination mobile unit or school-based clinic during school hours we believe parents should be present should their minor children be immunized," the lawmakers said.

"At a minimum, verified parental consent for minor children should be obtained in advance if children are given a COVID shot on campus," they wrote. "This will ensure that all aspects of the law are followed."

Gov. John Bel Edwards last week lifted the state's indoor face mask mandate amid declining numbers of coronavirus cases.

However, Edwards kept the directive in place in school districts that opt to allow their children to remain in classrooms if they are exposed to the virus.

The CDC recommends that exposed students be quarantined for at least seven days.

The revised guidelines to let parents decide whether exposed students should be quarantined was recommended by Brumley, a move that sparked criticism from Edwards, chief state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter and others.

Brumley has not responded to the letter from the legislators.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.