'A truly massive undertaking,' Louisiana looks to eventually open huge vaccination sites
BATON ROUGE - Nearly a month into Louisiana's vaccination rollout, the state has yet to set up a 'mega' vaccination center, as some other states have, instead choosing to spread doses out statewide.
Louisiana has spread vaccine distribution across the state through pharmacies and clinics, but is also preparing for the possibility of setting up centers for large-scale vaccinations.
"We are rehearsing for that, we are planning for that," Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a virus press conference Tuesday.
Dr. Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane's School of Public Health, said setting up a site to administer large numbers of vaccinations efficiently to large groups is not easy.
"It is a truly massive undertaking," said Hassig, who advised state officials as they developed a distribution plan last year.
Other states, like Texas, California and Florida have set up 'mega' sites at well known venues like Disneyland and Dodger Stadium.
The single biggest obstacle, she said, is uncertainty about the number of doses the state will be getting each week.
"You don't want to set up a large site like that, build expectation of vaccine being available, when you're not sure how many doses you're going to be getting at any given point in time," Hassig said.
Staffing will also be a challenge. The difficulty of finding certified personnel to administer vaccines and others to handle paperwork and manage the flow of the site is leading to state and private endeavors to recruit volunteers.
Officials in Louisiana have chosen to start by spreading smaller allotments of doses across the entire state, mainly through more than 200 pharmacies and clinics.
"If you're interested in equity, and if you want to have the largest reach across the state, you do the 210 sites when you're able to do them," Edwards said.
Once Louisiana begins receiving larger shipments of doses on a regular basis, Hassig said large-scale or even medium sites will likely be set up the way community testing centers were in the early months of the pandemic.
Churches, entertainment venues and stadiums could handle crowds in safe and efficient ways. Sites would also have to be able to properly manage the vaccine itself, with ultra-cold storage for the Pfizer vaccine.
The state hasn't selected any specific locations or divulged many details of its mass-vaccination plan.
Hassig said Louisiana won't ultimately be able to move forward until weekly shipments substantially increase.
"I can't see a major, large vaccine effort getting stood up, independent of a medical institution, or a pharmacy setting, until we get into the hundreds of thousands of doses a week, frankly," Hassig said.
According to data from the Louisiana Department of Health, 201,377 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered as of Thursday to 170,389 people. Of that group, 30,988 have received both necessary doses.
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