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Amid slow vaccine rollout, Louisiana has avoided major hiccups faced by other states, expert says

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BATON ROUGE - Louisiana has administered more than 56,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the past three weeks, without major problems, a vaccine researcher said Tuesday.

The number of doses counted as administered in data released Tuesday -- 56,452 -- is a fraction of the 210,000 allotted to the state. The data did not include any of the vaccines given over the past two days as second doses to people first vaccinated three weeks ago.

Frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, from Phase 1a, are still getting their vaccinations. People identified for Phase 1b which includes people 70 and older along with a broader group of health care workers, are also eligible to get vaccinated now.

Gus Kousoulas, a vaccine developer and researcher at LSU's School of Veterinary Medicine, says the process of receiving batches of the vaccine, shipping them statewide, scheduling vaccination appointments, and finally administering them takes time.

While progress has been slow, he said, Louisiana has avoided the difficulties some states have had.

"Louisiana plans have been well-designed, and so far we have not seen any issues whatsoever," Kousoulas said. "The problem is we just don't have the number of vaccines we should at this point."

Responsibility for the weak rollout, including meager weekly shipments, lies at the feet of the federal government and its distribution plan, Kousoulas said. Louisiana has avoided chaotic scenes, like long lines overnight in Florida, because of a narrowly tailored tiered system of who is eligible.

"Because of the population of Louisiana, the fact that [the vaccine] is sort of distributed not in very dense populations, we're not going to have the problems that we see in other major cities," Kousoulas said.

He said a couple of potential options to speed up vaccination rates would require federal approval.

Early data shows a high efficacy rate after a single dose of the vaccine, so the second of the two-shot series could be delayed, Kousoulas said. That would make initial doses of the vaccine available to more people and allow distribution kinks to be worked out.

Also, vaccine developer Moderna and the National Institutes of Health plan to study whether a half a dose would be sufficient to protect people from COVID-19. That would theoretically double the number of available doses. The research is expected to take a couple of months.

But Kousoulas said that remains wishful thinking at this stage.

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration have dismissed these ideas, among others.

Kousoulas argues the slow pace of vaccinations is due mainly to distribution, not production. He, like state officials, expects Louisiana's weekly shipments to increase in size.

"When the numbers rev up, I think it will be dispensed fairly efficiently," Kousoulas said. "That's my expectation."

Louisiana expects to receive more than 55,000 additional doses next week, a spokeswoman for Gov. John Bel Edwards tells WBRZ.


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