BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — At least 68% of Louisiana lawmakers say they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, while the top leaders of the House and Senate have refused to reveal whether they’ve gotten their shots, according to a survey conducted by The Advocate.
Ninety-eight of 142 lawmakers polled said they have received the coronavirus vaccine, while 30 said they haven’t been vaccinated. Some said they recently recovered from COVID-19 and plan to get the vaccine soon. One lawmaker was unreachable, while another seat in the 144-member Legislature is vacant.
Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, both Republicans, wouldn’t answer The Advocate’s question about whether they’d been vaccinated. They were among more than a dozen lawmakers who refused to say if they’d received the shots now available to anyone 16 and older in Louisiana.
“I don’t want my constituents to be influenced one way or another by my decision,” said Rep. Jonathan Goudeau, a Lafayette Republican who wouldn’t say whether he had been vaccinated.
While some legislators called the question an invasion of privacy, others told the newspaper they felt a responsibility to get vaccinated as Louisiana is ramping up outreach work to try to persuade reluctant people. The state brought vaccines directly to the Louisiana Capitol for interested lawmakers and legislative staff.
“I’m a lawmaker and I’m supposed to be leading the way here,” said Rep. Larry Bagley, a Stonewall Republican who chairs the House health committee. “Why wouldn’t you get it? It’s the only way we’re going to combat COVID.”
Sen. Louie Bernard, a Nachitoches Republican, agreed. He told The Advocate: “The entire medical community has said that in order to function as a society, we need to get vaccinated. Everyone has a right to make their own decision on this, but it’s an example we could set without too much trouble.”
Lawmakers returned to work last week for the first session since vaccines were available. They often don’t comply with the statewide mask mandate or distancing suggestions. Vaccines have proven to be a polarizing subject among some Republican lawmakers.
Rep. Kathy Edmonston, a Gonzales Republican, said she wouldn’t go “within a foot of the vaccine,” calling it “way too experimental.”
Among the 94 GOP lawmakers elected to Louisiana’s Legislature, 60% said they had been or would soon get vaccinated.
Rep. Danny McCormick, an Oil City Republican, posted a Facebook video offering three reasons he said the public shouldn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine: “Number 1: People are trying to bully you into getting it. Number 2: People are trying to use fear to make you get. Number 3: They’re trying to guilt you into getting the vaccine.”
McCormick said he didn’t need the vaccine because he already had COVID-19, though medical experts do not yet know how long antibodies last and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations regardless of whether you had COVID-19.
Some lawmakers referenced misinformation about the vaccine in their decision not to get vaccinated, including two Houma Republicans, Rep. Beryl Amedee and Sen. Mike Fesi.
Amedee said she was concerned the vaccine could cause spontaneous miscarriages among women — a claim that has been debunked by medical experts. Fesi said a family friend died from the vaccine, though the Louisiana Department of Health said the state hasn’t confirmed any deaths from any of the coronavirus vaccines administered in Louisiana.
Other lawmakers said they were holding out on getting inoculated until there was more information.
“I’m certainly going to take it,” said Rep. Marcus Bryant, a New Iberia Democrat. “But just like with a new car, you want to make sure the glitches are fixed and recalls are done before you buy.”