Just under 15 percent of residents in Louisiana’s Region 5 Office of Public Health, which includes Southwest Louisiana, have received both rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Region 5 medical director, said a “critical mass” of people need to get the vaccine for things to return to normal, and there is enough supply for that to happen within a couple of months.

“We want people to realize the vaccine is safe and effective; that’s the main message,” she said during a virtual town hall Monday hosted by the Louisiana Public Health Institute and Louisiana Department of Health.

Cavanaugh said the office is reaching out to smaller communities in Region 5, where fewer residents have received the vaccine. Areas that suffered severe damage from Hurricanes Laura and Delta also have lower vaccination rates. She said the lower numbers may be because some residents haven’t returned to the area, or are focused on rebuilding their homes and businesses.

“They’re so busy trying to pick up their lives, it makes it difficult to focus on COVID-19,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh said the Louisiana National Guard and three smaller teams are traveling to areas across Region 5 to get the vaccine to local communities. The partnership also

involves local churches, grocery stores and fire stations.

“We’re excited that it seems to be going well,” she said.

The next battle, Cavanaugh said, is encouraging residents who are hesitant to get vaccinated to get it.

Cavanaugh said the Region 5 office has two additional community health workers available to help residents wanting to get the COVID-19 vaccine. One is available for Spanish-speaking residents, she said.

The office has also delivered supplies to residents quarantined at home, Cavanaugh said.

The new state hotline, 855-453-0774, allows residents to speak with medical professionals about the vaccines, find a nearby vaccine distribution site or register to get the vaccine. Residents can also call 211 for assistance, including transportation to vaccine sites.

Denise Durel, president and CEO of the United Way Southwest Louisiana, spoke of the work being done to increase vaccination support throughout the region. She said vaccine administration and testing sites are being shared to provide residents with access. Durel said plans are in the works to host a vaccine distribution site and a partnership with Lyft to offer free rides for residents to and from vaccine distribution sites.

Durel said COVID-19 has changed how the United Way serves its residents.

“We find ourselves more in the field, helping one-on-one,” she said. “I don’t see that changing.”

The Rev. Brylon Harris at Mount Olive Baptist Church said it’s important for his congregation to lead by example through getting the vaccine and sharing their stories with other church members. Harris said he received his first COVID-19 shot last week.

“When someone they know has gotten it and shares their experience with it and is honest, that is the greatest example,” Harris said.

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