The Advocate. June 7, 2021.

Editorial: Louisiana legislative hearings must include facts, not scare tactics and rumors

The people of Louisiana have been through much during this ongoing global pandemic. Many have lost hours. Many have lost jobs. Many have gotten sick. Many have died. Many have lost loved ones. Though things are getting better, nationally we’re still losing more than 400 to COVID-19 deaths daily. In Louisiana, we’ve had more than 471,000 cases and more than 10,500 deaths.

We have had and we continue to have vigorous discussions and debates about how to best deal with a virus that spreads from person to person and ravages individual health in ways unimaginable less than 18 months ago. It has taken scientists and health professionals a lot of energy, thought, time and work to determine the causes so the virus could be limited, reduced and, eventually, eliminated.

That work has been focused on the efficacy and effectiveness of the much-anticipated, much-needed coronavirus vaccines. That work has been tracking virus deaths connected to the vaccines. There is specific, scientific data about the very few instances where vaccine outbreaks have caused deaths. So few, in fact, that the safety of the vaccines in use in the United States is not responsibly questioned.

Unfortunately, some anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy types are not using those kind of legitimate sources of information to make arguments against using vaccines. Instead, when addressing a Louisiana Senate’s Judiciary A Committee hearing, people like Jill Hines, co-director of Health Freedom Louisiana, cited the open-source Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which publishes unconfirmed reports. Anyone can post anything. One report says vaccines in Louisiana have killed nearly four dozen people. That is blatantly false. The truth? Louisiana has provided more than 3 million vaccine doses and no one died connected to COVID-19 vaccinations.

During the Tuesday committee hearing, legislators were considering a bill that would prohibit vaccine safety precautions that call for limitations for unvaccinated people. Hines falsely claimed that the state’s Health Department told doctors about a possible side effect of myocarditis, the vaccine in teens, but hid it from parents. That’s not true. The truth? The state notification was posted online, making it accessible to the public.

Such misinformation came during testimony about House Bill 498. The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, would prohibit COVID-19 vaccine status from being used for a variety of reasons. It would prohibit private businesses from denying entry to unvaccinated customers as long as vaccines are under emergency use authorization. In addition, it would prohibit the evaluation of vaccine status to determine whether a person can participate in public hearings, get permits or licenses and otherwise participate in government programs.

COVID-19 is real and it continues to make people sick and to snuff out lives. If Edmonston thinks such legislation is a part of representing her district, she should do so with strong arguments and should disavow people and groups who use false information as scare tactics to taint the debate.