Louisiana will begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to people 70 and older and additional types of health care workers next week as the first batch of Moderna’s vaccine is set to arrive Monday in a limited supply, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday.
“The number of vaccine doses that we are going to receive next week in order to start this is very very limited, but it’s enough for us to get started, to test our systems, to work out the kinks and so forth,” Edwards said. “Over time we fully expect that the number of doses will increase dramatically.”
The state has used the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate hospital workers as well as nursing home and long-term care facility residents and staff since Dec. 14. But next week will mark the first time large numbers of people who aren’t connected to a health care facility will be eligible for the vaccine in Louisiana.
The Moderna vaccine batch will contain about 27,400 doses and will be administered to those in Phase 1A and some in the Phase 1B (Tier 1) population. The Louisiana Department of Health defines the Phase 1A population as frontline hospital personnel, nursing home and long-term-care facility residents and staff, and emergency medical and fire services personnel. The Phase 1B (Tier 1) population, which includes people 70 and older as well as ambulatory and outpatient health care personnel, will also be able to get vaccinated next week.
Those in the Phase 1B (Tier 1) group who wish to get vaccinated must make an appointment at a qualified pharmacy in their area. The Health Department will be distributing the drug to about 100 pharmacies that were selected to ensure vaccinations are spread across different geographic regions and ethnic communities, the governor said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use on Dec. 18, making it the second such vaccine approved in the country. It is similar to Pfizer’s vaccine in many ways. In clinical trials, the Moderna vaccine showed to be 94% effective at preventing coronavirus, a rate similar to Pfizer’s 95%, according to the FDA. While the Moderna drug is administered in larger doses than Pfizer’s, both vaccines require two shots in intervals of three to four weeks.
So far, Louisiana has given out the first shot of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine to at least 45,000 people, though the governor estimated that was an undercount.
Moderna’s vaccine is easier to ship and store because it does need to be kept at the extremely low temperatures demanded by the Pfizer drug, which requires special ultra cold freezers. Moderna’s drug can be shipped and stored in regular freezers and refrigerators. Also, after thawing, Pfizer’s drug must be used within five days, whereas Moderna’s is stable at fridge temperature for 30 days and at room temperature for 12 hours, according to the CDC.
The governor held the New Year’s Eve press conference after what was perhaps one of his toughest days in Louisiana’s COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, state health officials reported 6,754 new cases, the highest single day total since the pandemic began in March.
“In many ways it appears that it’s worsening — not getting better,” Edwards said.
Overall, the state’s pandemic data, such as hospitalization and percent-positivity rates, indicates the pandemic is worsening. The governor said people have grown complacent and some continue to minimize the danger of the virus. He expressed concern about people holding New Year’s Eve parties and gatherings
“I know that there’s a tendency out there, especially among certain people, to minimize just how dangerous and serious this situation is,” he said.
As he has many other times this year, the governor urged residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing and avoid unnecessary contact and gatherings. He said he has not ruled out moving the state back to a more restrictive phase and plans to discuss those options with hospital directors next week.
“It’s one that I’m prepared to make if it becomes necessary,” Edwards said.