Louisiana's coronavirus vaccine plans starting to take shape
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s plans for distributing a coronavirus vaccine prioritize hospital employees and those who live and work in nursing homes, but the broader outline of who’s next in line when more doses reach the state remains unsettled.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he expects Louisiana to begin receiving shipments of the vaccine this month, if federal approval comes through as anticipated. Behind the scenes, state and federal officials and health care facilities are working to ready storage and distribution plans to move those doses quickly into people’s arms.
But tough decisions are ahead about how to divvy up the small number of immunizations Louisiana will receive in the earliest months to combat the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 6,200 people in the state. A similar set of difficult decisions faces all states.
WHEN WILL A VACCINE BE AVAILABLE?
No vaccine has been authorized for use in the United States, but preliminary results of ongoing clinical trials have been encouraging for Pfizer’s and Moderna’s candidates. If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of one or both vaccines, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.
When Adm. Brett Giroir visited Louisiana on Wednesday, the federal assistant health secretary who oversees U.S. testing operations for President Donald Trump’s administration said roughly 20 million people should be vaccinated by early next year. Each person must receive two doses three to four weeks apart.
The first shipment of vaccines, if authorized by the FDA, will contain about 6.5 million doses to be divvied up across the country on a population basis, Giroir said, with additional weekly shipments to follow.
Edwards said Louisiana’s share is 1.46% of the available doses to be shipped to states and municipalities. The Democratic governor said Louisiana expects to receive about 40,000 doses in the first week shipments go out, and a similar amount the next week.
Widespread vaccine availability isn’t expected until mid-2021 or later.
WHO’S FIRST IN LINE?
Governors have the ultimate say on how the vaccines will be distributed in their states.
For the earliest doses, Louisiana is prioritizing hospital workers who regularly encounter COVID-19 patients and nursing home residents and staff, in line with recommendations from a panel of scientific experts that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Edwards said hospitals will receive the Pfizer vaccine because most hospitals have the ultra-cold storage capacity those doses require. The Moderna vaccine will go to nursing homes. Most nursing homes in Louisiana have agreed to contract with either CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens to administer the vaccines at the facilities, Edwards said.
Louisiana is still determining who should be next in line for vaccination after hospital workers and nursing home residents and staff.
A draft report submitted to federal officials by the Louisiana Department of Health in mid-October outlined who should be in the second phase of vaccine distribution for the state: K-12 teachers and staff; child care workers; people in “high-risk” settings and essential jobs, such as first responders; people in homeless shelters, group homes for individuals with disabilities and staff at those facilities; prisoners and their guards; older adults; and people with health conditions that put them at greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection.
But that’s a long list, and exactly which groups will move to the front of the line in that second phase remains unclear. Giroir said choosing will cause “a lot of controversy” across states.
“There are good arguments for essential workers and first responders, but if your hospitals are almost full or overwhelmed, there’s going to be a larger argument for immunizing the people who would be in the hospitals,” such as the elderly or people with hypertension, obesity and other COVID-19 health risks.
Edwards said “to the maximum degree possible” he will follow the recommendations of the CDC advisory group. But he also said state officials still are working on their list.
“We do have some time to prepare for that next order of priority and how that’s going to be done,” the governor said.