NEW ORLEANS — People 70 and over will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus starting next week, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday as he outlined plans for distributing the state’s next shipment of vaccines using a network of pharmacies.
The announcement came one day after the state saw a record one-day total of new coronavirus infections.
Edwards made the announcement on New Year’s Eve as he implored residents eager to put the trying year behind them to abide by safety guidelines as they celebrate. He urged them to continue social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands regularly.
Starting next week a network of about 100 pharmacies across the state will begin receiving limited doses of the Moderna vaccine, Edwards said.
Seniors 70 and older and certain health care workers will be able to make an appointment at one of the participating pharmacies to get the first of the two-shot vaccine. Edwards said there are nearly 500,000 people aged 70 and older in the state and stressed that the process will take time.
“This is the beginning of the process to get to this group,” he said during the televised news conference in Baton Rouge.
The pharmacies will be available on the Louisiana Department of Health website on Monday. The governor said officials are working to make sure that the vaccine is being distributed equitably so underserved communities aren’t left out.
A panel of scientific experts that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended states to next prioritize people 75 and older along with other groups. But Edwards said in Louisiana the 70-year mark was a clear demarcation for when people were getting sick and being hospitalized so the state decided to go with that age instead of 75.
The state is in its third week of vaccinations. So far front line health care workers, emergency medical staff such as firefighters and residents and staff of long-term care facilities have been prioritized. They will continue to be able to be vaccinated in the coming weeks as new groups gain access to the vaccine, the governor said.
So far, a little more than 200,000 doses of the vaccine have been allocated to Louisiana and during the first two weeks of the vaccine campaign about 45,000 people received their first dose, according to a news release from the Louisiana Department of Health.
Dr. Joseph Kanter of the Department of Health said it can take some time between when the doses reach the state to when they actually make their way into someone’s arm. He said clinics or hospitals often don’t know how many doses they’ll get until the night before or the morning the doses arrive — because the state itself doesn’t get much lead time. Kanter said while everyone wishes that the vaccine could be administered immediately when the doses arrive, “it’s just not like that.”
Edwards also offered prayers for the family of Luke Letlow, a Congressman-elect from northern Louisiana who died Tuesday night of complications related to COVID-19 — days before he was scheduled to be sworn into office. Edwards said flags will be flown at half-staff for Letlow when his funeral service is held.
The governor said flags are already at half-staff Thursday to honor Victor “Vic” Stelly. The former legislator and his wife Terry Bass Stelly died within hours of each other on Saturday from complications of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.