Louisiana Hospitals Put Extra COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Use, But Distribution Started With Hiccups

Dec 17, 2020

State health officials said they may be able to administer more than the 39,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine they expected to receive this week.

Dr. Joseph Kanter, head of the Louisiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 response, said health care workers got a bit of a surprise as they administered the first doses of the long-awaited vaccine.

“Pfizer put a little bit of lagniappe in the vials,” Kanter said. “Hospitals are finding an extra dose in the vials here and there.”

Kanter said it's fairly typical for vaccine manufacturers to slightly overfill their vials. And depending on the gauge of needle and amount of saline used in dispensing the dose, people distributing the COVID vaccine are finding that they can get a sixth complete dose out of a vial labeled as having only five.

“We’ve been very clear with Louisiana that we don’t want to waste any vaccine, so hospitals are using those extra doses,” Kanter said.

He added that the state doesn’t know how many “angel doses” have been administered, but that the LDH is working with the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration to find out and ensure that the state will have enough of the vaccine on hand when people need their required second dose in 17 to 21 days.

During his weekly press briefing, Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state has documented 7,000 vaccinations so far, but he suspects many more shots have been administered.

Officials at Our Lady of The Lake Regional Medical center in Baton Rouge informed Edwards that they were routinely getting six doses per vial.

“There were actually some states where once they drew out those five doses, even though there was another one in there, they were throwing [the vials] away,” Edwards said. “We’re not going to do that in Louisiana. We’re going to administer all six doses everytime we can.”

But aside from the windfall of extra doses, Louisiana, like many other states, has experienced some hiccups in its first week of vaccine distribution.

Edwards initially indicated that the state would administer all 39,000 doses of the initial batch within 48 hours of receiving them. He walked back that statement on Thursday, saying that the state would begin administering doses within 48 hours. Shipments have trickled in throughout the week.

“We didn’t know until this weekend that our weekly allocation was going to be delivered over three days,” Edwards said.

Edwards traveled to Ochsner Health’s Jefferson Highway facility in New Orleans on Monday to witness the first vaccinations in the state. On Thursday, he was at the state’s largest hospital, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, as they kicked off their vaccination effort.

Officials in several states have reported that they will receive smaller Week 2 vaccine shipments than originally promised. Edwards said he will not know exactly how many doses the state will receive until consulting federal officials Friday.

He previously said that the state would receive 40,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week along with an initial shipment of 80,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine once federal regulators approve it for emergency use.

Dr. Takeisha Davis, chief executive officer of New Orleans East Hospital, described an emotional scene as she received her first dose of the vaccine alongside her employees earlier this week.

“We’ve had tears of joy, different from in March and April when there were tears of despair,” Davis said during a joint press conference with Edwards.

The arrival of a safe, effective vaccine is seen as a glimmer of hope for health care professionals across the state and around the world, but Edwards warned that it would take months to produce and administer enough doses to achieve herd immunity from the virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.

He urged Louisianans to comply with mask mandates and other mitigation measures until that day comes.

The governor’s modified Phase 2 coronavirus restrictions will remain in place through Dec. 23. He has already indicated that he will either renew or tighten those restrictions sometime next week.

On Thursday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state reached an eight-month high, just barely surpassing their peak during the summertime surge. For several days in April, more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized.

Back then the hospitalizations were concentrated in the greater New Orleans area, and healthcare workers from other parts of the state and across the country were brought in to maintain healthcare capacity. State health officials say that option is no longer available to them as coronavirus patients are straining healthcare systems all across the country.

“How soon we can get to a better place really will be determined collectively by the people of Louisiana,” Edwards said, asking for more compliance with his statewide mask mandate and other coronavirus mitigation measures. “We have flattened the curve, we have slowed the spread before, and we can do it again.”