‘Nobody is satisfied’ with Louisiana’s vaccine distribution so far, Edwards says

Pharmacies say they’re overwhelmed in second phase of vaccine distribution

Gov. John Bel Edwards
Gov. John Bel Edwards (Photo by Wesley Muller)

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ covered three major topics during a Wednesday afternoon press conference: the schedule for a special election for the seats left open by Rep. Cedric Richmond and the late Luke Letlow, COVID-19’s alarming spread in Louisiana and his dissatisfaction with the state’s vaccine distribution thus far.

Louisiana will hold a special election for vacant congressional seats in two weeks

Louisiana will hold a primary election in March and a special election in April to fill two vacant seats to represent Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep Cedric Richmond, who represents the 2nd Congressional District– which stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge — is resigning from Congress to serve as Biden’s director of the Office of Public Engagement in the White House. The 5th Congressional District  seat was left empty when U.S. Rep-elect Luke Letlow died last month of COVID-19 complications. 24 parishes and the cities of Monroe, Alexandria, Opelousas, Ruston, Bogalusa, Jackson and St. Francisville. 

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin on Tuesday presented a plan to two legislative committees that would give voters five COVID-19-related reasons to request an absentee mail-in ballot

Edwards said he will approve Ardoin’s emergency election plan, which Edwards said were “very much consistent with the elections that we held previously with the exception of not having extended days of early voting.”

“We’re at record highs” of statewide COVID-19 spread, Edwards said 

New cases of COVID-19 reported were “the highest at any point of the pandemic,” Edwards said, with 6,882 reported on Wednesday.

“Beyond any doubt, we have tremendous amounts of COVID-19 in our community,” Edwards said, which is stressing our hospital capacities in the state. Edwards said the state’s hospitals are not close to having to resort to crisis-care mode, but clearly if we stay on this trajectory, over time, that will happen.”

The state’s current coronavirus restrictions are scheduled to end next week, but Edwards raised his voice as he called on Louisianans to take on the safety measures personally because “if (Louisianans) aren’t following mitigation measures and restrictions that are in place, what makes you believe that if I impose more restrictions and mitigation measures, they’re going to follow those?”

“We’re not going to enforce our way out of this, people,” Edwards said. “We’re either going to do the right thing or not. And if we don’t do better, we’re going to watch a lot more of our fellow Louisiana brothers and sisters die.”

Beginning Jan. 8, New Orleans will move back into a modified Phase 1 of reopening, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced on the city’s website on Wednesday as over the past seven days, 1,485 new confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in New Orleans.

Phase 1 includes a mask mandate, restrictions on gatherings with anyone other than members of their immediate family and bars, restaurants and office buildings operating at 25 percent capacity. These restrictions will last three weeks.

Edwards said state will do better in administering vaccines

As Louisiana enters the second phase of the state’s vaccine administration plan, the Louisiana Department of Health reports 56,452 total doses administered in the state so far — well below the 210,000 people that make up Louisiana’s hospital workers and nursing home residents prioritized in Phase 1A.

“Nobody is satisfied. This is just starting,” Edwards said. “It is a tremendously complex logistical exercise and it will improve over time.”

The state started distributing the vaccines to commercial pharmacies for the first time this week — a process several pharmacists described on Monday as chaotic and overwhelming, as demand for the vaccine has been exponentially larger than the supply.

Another one of the logistical challenges that Edwards mentioned was hospitals not being able to predict how many of their employees will choose to accept the vaccine and, instead, placing orders based on their best guesses. Dr. Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s state health officer, said the state has lost a total of 146 vaccine doses so far, 120 of them because of a power outage that spoiled a batch of vaccines that required cold storage.