Sluggish pace of vaccinations expected for another 4-5 weeks

Louisiana waiting on drug companies to ramp up supply

The first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 arrived in Louisiana in December, including these that were opened at Ochsner Lafayette General. (Photo courtesy Ochsner Health)

Louisiana residents should expect the same sluggish pace of vaccinations for at least another month as pharmaceutical manufacturers are struggling to meet an ever-growing demand across the country due to a record-high COVID-19 death toll and the emerging threat of the new more contagious coronavirus variant.

The federal government has told state officials to expect the number of vaccine doses allocated to remain flat for the next four to five weeks, Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a Friday press conference. 

Louisiana’s allocation for next week amounts to 58,150 doses, comprised of nearly equal shares of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The state remains in Phase 1B (Tier 1) for vaccine qualification, which includes residents age 70 and over as well as health care personnel.

About 900,000 people total make up the population of Phase 1A and Phase 1B, according to Dr. Joseph Kanter, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Public Health. Louisiana has administered at least one shot of the vaccinations to nearly 273,000 people since inoculations began in mid-December. 

President Joe Biden is asking Congress for $20 billion to vastly expand vaccination centers and hire 100,000 additional healthcare workers, according to the New York Times. The president is aiming to open 100 new vaccination centers by the end of February. 

As residents wait for the supply to ramp up, Gov. Edwards and state health officials are making preparations to handle and use the increased supply once it arrives.

The state has enrolled significantly more pharmacies and providers to administer the vaccines and is allowing the vaccines to be shipped directly to them.

Dr. Kanter said about 1,800 providers have been enrolled, of which only 300 are administering vaccines due to the lack of supply from manufacturers. 

Dr. Kanter announced the launch of a new mobile app called COVID Defense, an exposure notification program that can send push notifications to users if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. The users are anonymous and must choose to participate. The app works via bluetooth and is available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The governor said Louisiana could receive the new Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine as early as March. The state is also preparing  “strike teams” of healthcare personnel who can travel to certain underserved communities and administer the shots, Edwards said.  

Friday marked some of the first decreases in critical COVID-19 statistics for Louisiana since the third surge began. The governor reported 1,747 hospitalizations, a drop of 53 since Thursday, and 216 of those patients are on ventilators, a decrease of 17.  

“We’re beginning to see what we hope is the formation of a trend that is starting to go down,” Edwards said, cautiously.

Still, the state’s percent-positivity rate — the percentage of positive tests compared to the total tests given — remains above 10%.

“They do seem to be plateauing a little bit,” Dr. Kanter said. “Transmission is still very high. It’s still very dangerous for Louisiana.”

Last weekend state health officials confirmed the first case of the new COVID-19 variant, SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7., dubbed the “U.K. variant” because of its prevalence in the United Kingdom. The new strain is more contagious, so it’s more important than ever for residents to wear face masks and practice social distancing, the governor said.

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