As pandemic reaches one year, large events on horizon to possibly return
BATON ROUGE - The declaration of a global pandemic a year ago put most of Louisiana's signature events on hold. Some events, like Jazz Fest and the Baton Rouge Blues Festival, are being reset for fall.
To hold those events safely, public health officials say, the state's vaccination rate needs to continue climbing.
As of Thursday, 18.2 percent of the state's residents have started their vaccination process and 10.5 percent have finished it.
"Where do we really need to be?" Dr. Catherine O'Neal, Chief Medical Officer of Our Lady of the Lake, asked. "We need to be almost fully vaccinated, honestly, because there's so much about this virus that we're learning, and the only safe space is when we're fully vaccinated."
O'Neal said it's realistic to think it will take vaccination of more than 80 percent of the state's population over the next few months to move beyond the pandemic.
State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said the state can't be certain what proportion of vaccinated people will add up to enough.
"I want 100 percent," Kanter said. "I don't think I'm going to get it. I don't think we need 100 percent. It's difficult to pin down what the herd immunity zone is, and there's a lot of factors we don't exactly know."
One of those factors is the movement of virus variants swirling around the world, with potential increases in transmissibility and possible vaccine resistance.
"As variants come up, especially if we see variants come up that are resistant to the vaccine, your number needed to vaccinate goes higher and higher as you have variants that play around with your immunity," Kanter said.
The expansion of vaccine eligibility, announced Tuesday, is a key to getting more people vaccinated faster, state leaders say. And as the rate of vaccination continues to rise, large events can be on the horizon.
O'Neal said it could be as soon as summer.
"The summer months, especially towards the end of the summer, we could absolutely be at a place where we have reached enough vaccine and vaccination of our population that we see summertime concerts and summertime large gatherings," O'Neal said.
Kanter leaned more toward autumn.
"If we're able to keep transmission at bay and avoid a fourth surge as a result of these variants, I think we're going to be in very good position come the fall to be having large events," Kanter said. "I really do. That's a big 'if,' though."