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1M coronavirus vaccine doses later, what’s next for Louisiana? A boost from Johnson & Johnson



LOUISIANA – After nearly a year of grim milestones, Louisiana has reached a more hopeful marker in the coronavirus pandemic: over 1 million vaccines have been administered in the state as of Monday.

Because the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses delivered weeks apart, the total of 1,025,411 jabs has translated to 368,146 fully vaccinated people in Louisiana. A total of 657,265 people have started the series of vaccines, or about one in seven of the state’s residents.

This week, a third authorized coronavirus vaccine, from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, is set to boost weekly supplies received from the federal government. The product is also easier to ship, store and administer, requiring just one dose.

State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said last week that Louisiana expected to receive 38,000 doses in a weekly shipment after authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which was given Saturday.

The 1 million dose milestone and the coming distribution of a third vaccine added to hopes that a year after coronavirus cases were first identified in Louisiana, the means to eventually squash the virus were closer at hand.

And while public-health officials continue to warn residents not to let their guard down on precautions, after more than two months of the vaccine rollout there is evidence that the shots have helped bring down cases and deaths.

On Monday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 299 more confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the rolling seven-day average daily case count to 563. The state reported 18 more deaths. Hospitalizations have dropped from more than 2,000 in early January to 679 last week.

Between Jan. 6 and Feb. 10, cases have dropped almost 80% in people over 70, the age group that was the first to receive the shots. Over 50% of people in that group are vaccinated, according to data analyst Jeff Asher.

Still, recent data suggest that the drop in known cases since January is leveling off, though it’s not yet clear why or how long that might continue, with some of the decrease attributed to a drop in gatherings and travel after the holidays.

“It seems like over the past few days we’ve had a plateau,” said Ochsner Health’s Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, an infectious disease specialist. “We are continuing to urge people to wear their masks and the things we need to have them do to prevent transmission whether or not they’ve been vaccinated. We still can’t let down our guard.

Ochsner, Louisiana’s largest hospital system, said Monday it has provided almost 19% of the shots given in Louisiana across its hospitals and clinics. If the system receives notice of shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Tuesday with delivery on Wednesday, they could give it out as soon as Thursday, according to Dawn Pevey, the system vice president of service lines.

Ochsner, which operates Chabert Medical Center in Houma and St. Anne Hospital in Raceland, has not yet received word of its allocation of the new vaccine but has the capacity to administer up to 75,000 vaccines per week. That’s more than seven times its current allocation.

The new vaccine allows providers to inoculate people at twice the speed. For example, at Ochsner’s mass vaccination event at the Shrine on Airline in Metairie, 1,200 second doses were given out along with 1,000 first doses this week. If every vaccine was one shot, twice as many people could be vaccinated.

The system will continue to give out the other two vaccines, but said future mass events will have only one type of vaccine at each event.

All of the authorized vaccines provided strong protection against hospitalization and death in clinical trials. Johnson & Johnson’s product was 66% protective against moderate to severe disease in global clinical trials and 72% effective in U.S. clinical trials. The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna had efficacy of over 94%.

The vaccines were also tested in different countries at different times, possibly putting them up against different variants that may have challenged the effectiveness more in some trials than others.