COVID-19 vaccine is coming, officials say, but Louisianians cannot afford to be careless

(Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Despite the promise of a life-saving vaccine on the distant horizon, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Trump administration’s point person on COVID-19 testing warned Louisianians at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the state is in extremely dangerous COVID-19 territory now and that things are likely to worsen in the months before shots are widely accessible.

Admiral Brett Giroir, the federal assistant health secretary who oversees COVID-19 testing operations for the Trump administration, said the finding that vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer are 90 percent effective at protecting recipients from COVID-19 infections and “almost 100 percent effective at preventing severe COVID disease” is “more than we could have hoped for.” 

 But Giroir said most Americans won’t have access to vaccines until May or June 2021, and right now Louisiana is in the throes of a frightening third wave of novel coronavirus infections. Gov. Edwards said there were just under 600 Louisianians in the hospital for COVID-19 on Oct. 31 and over 1,200 on Dec. 1.

“The trajectory has been extremely concerning,” Edwards said. “If we don’t get off that trajectory relatively soon, we’re going to be in dire trouble when it comes to having the capacity to render life-saving care in our hospitals.”

Giroir said about 6.5 million vaccines will be proportionately distributed throughout the states in December with priority given to healthcare workers, first responders, nursing home residents and staff. The governor said he expects the state to receive a sufficient amount of dosages to cover people in those categories.

The state’s plan on distributing the vaccine is consistent with Tuesday’s recommendation from  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. That 14-member panel voted 13-1 that health care workers and people who live or work at nursing homes should be vaccinated first. 

The one dissenting vote came from Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. She expressed concerns that including nursing home residents in the initial phase could undermine public confidence when residents who receive the vaccine die of other causes.

Giroir said the months before the vaccines are  widely distributed are “a very dangerous and critical point of the pandemic,” and he urged Louisianans to keep practicing COVID-19 safety measures.

“We know how to stop this,” he said. “We don’t need to shut down your economy. We don’t need draconian measures.” What Louisianians need to do, he said, is wear a mask, avoid indoor crowded spaces and socially distance.

“The light is at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing now.”