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Louisiana coronavirus vaccine effort picks up for elderly, but high demand brings challenges



LOUISIANA – After a slow start, Louisiana’s decision to make vaccines available to people aged 70 and older has kicked the mass COVID-19 vaccination effort into a higher gear, with more than 170,000 people receiving at least one shot.

Louisiana in recent days has climbed the ranks of U.S. states in the share of its population receiving a vaccine. After sitting in the bottom 10 at the start of the effort last month, Louisiana now ranks 17th among states and the District of Columbia, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several providers say their biggest challenge now is getting enough doses to immunize the thousands of people waiting. That’s a turnaround from the first three weeks, when health workers at hospitals were slow to get vaccinated and demand wasn’t meeting supply. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration on New Year’s Eve expanded eligibility to include people aged 70 and older and a broader range of health workers, and doses began arriving Jan. 4 to pharmacies around the state. This week, the state also took about 17,410 doses of vaccines that were sitting on shelves to push out to the public, augmenting its weekly shipment from the feds.

At Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s network of hospitals, staffers are reaching out to elderly patients who fit the criteria to schedule vaccine appointments, said Dr. Jimmy Craven, president of the system’s employed physician practice.

But until the hospitals can get more certainty they will receive a steady stream of vials, Craven said the system isn’t prepared to open up its digital scheduling process to its roughly 60,000 patients, or to the hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t Our Lady of the Lake Patients.

“Our concern is an inability to access the vaccine,” he said. “How do you schedule someone for something not knowing if you have it to deliver on what you’re scheduled for?”

The Louisiana Department of Health roughly doubled the number of pharmacies and other providers receiving doses for the elderly and other patients in the current eligibility group this week. But this week’s shipment to providers was bolstered by the 17,410 doses that were going unused. Because of that, the state has warned that all providers might not receive shipments again next week.