Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday that an additional 640,000 Louisianans will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines when the state enters the next stage of distribution next week.
This expanded group includes home healthcare workers and their patients, “end phase” renal disease facility personnel and patients, as well as allied health students and staff.
But the largest subsection of people eligible for vaccination in what is being called Phase 1B, Tier 1 are people who are 70 years old or older. Edwards estimates that about 485,000 Louisianans meet that requirement.
“We don’t have 485,000 doses of the vaccine coming Monday, and we wouldn’t be able to do that in one week,” Edwards said. “So I want to stress again that this is the beginning of the process to get to this group.”
The state expects to receive a total of 55,675 doses from Pfizer and Moderna in the coming week. The majority of those will go to frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents who qualified for vaccination in the first priority group but have not yet received their first dose.
About 10,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be distributed to 100 pharmacies across the state, where qualifying individuals can receive vaccination by appointment. Edwards said the 100 pharmacies were selected at random from all of those that had enrolled with the Louisiana Department of Health and CDC. Doses were apportioned according to each parishes’ population.
The Louisiana Department of Health will post a complete list of vaccination sites on Monday at covidvaccine.la.gov. The list is likely to grow in the coming weeks as the vaccine becomes more widely available.
The state is still working through the Phase 1A of vaccine distribution.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the recently promoted State Health Officer and the leader of the LDH’s coronavirus response, said by the end of the week, the state will have received approximately 210,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses — about 40,000 shy of the number needed to administer the initial dose to everyone in the first priority group.
So far, 45,289 initial doses have been administered and reported to the state.
Kanter noted that there is lag time between when providers administer vaccinations and when they can record that data through the state's electronic health reporting system, but admitted that the initial vaccine rollout has been slower than anticipated.
“I think we all wish that the second a plane or a truck of vaccines entered state lines that it just immediately gets administered into people’s arms, but it’s just not like that,” Kanter said.
Kanter explained that the state is told how many doses it will receive only days in advance. Hospitals and distribution locations have only hours to prepare for each shipment and set appointments with people who want to be vaccinated.
To complicate matters, both vaccines have cold storage requirements — Pfizer’s requires ultra-cold storage at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.
“At the end of the day the most care has to be given to securing and storage of the doses,” Kanter said. “It can’t happen in a haphazard way because we can’t accept any undue loss right now.”
While the advent of a safe, effective vaccine is encouraging, Edwards said it will do little to help the state through the current resurgence of the virus.
On Wednesday the Louisiana Department of Health reported 4,261 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest single-day increase since the coronavirus was first detected in the state in March.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached their highest point since April 17 and the percentage of tests returned positive over the past seven days increased to 10.7 — wiping out the modest improvement Edwards cited last week when he decided not to tighten the state’s coronavirus restrictions.
“You can slice and dice that any way you want and the fact is, we’re going in the wrong direction in Louisiana,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the imposition of additional mitigation measures is “certainly on the table,” but he indicated that he was unlikely to tighten restrictions before his current set expires on Jan. 16. Edwards said Louisianans could improve the state’s outlook by recommitting themselves to complying with public health orders that are already in place.
“The most effective tool that we have today to save lives, preserve hospital capacity is this mask,” Edwards said. “The vaccine is not available to everybody today, but this mask is, and this mask works.