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First COVID vaccines for Louisiana seniors 70 and older begin this week

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star

Louisiana seniors 70 and older and a wider array of healthcare workers can begin securing a COVID-19 vaccine at 100 pharmacies across the state beginning Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a New Year's Eve press conference.

But Edwards emphasized the vaccine remains extremely limited and seniors must make an appointment at one of the pharmacies before getting the shot.

He said about 8,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be distributed to the pharmacies next week, which will accommodate about 2% of the state's 485,000 seniors 70 and older.

Ochsner Lafayette General ICU Nurse Joni Reed gets the first COVID-19 vaccine administered in Lafayette on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

"Initially these doses will be in limited supply and increase over time," Edwards said. "I'm asking you to be patient because obviously the majority (of those 70 and older) won't be able to get an appointment next week.

"There's no doubt we'll learn lessons next week and (learn) things we can do better an incorporate in our effort."

The names of the pharmacies will be posted Monday on the Louisiana Department of Health website at ldh.la.gov.

"(Vaccines) never happen as fast as we want but we're working very hard to make this happen as soon as we can and as efficiently as we can with as little waste as possible," Edwards said.

Hospital workers received the first vaccines beginning about three weeks ago, followed by nursing home residents and staff.

Seniors and other healthcare workers begin getting the shots next week.

"The next group will include many essential front-line workers (teachers, grocery employees, others keeping state functioning)," Edwards said. "They're on deck, but I can't tell you yet when we get to them."

Edwards said more than 45,000 vaccinations (of 210,000 doses received) have been administered so far to hospital workers, emergency medical service personnel, nursing home staff and residents and others in first phase. At the current pace of vaccination it will take nearly five years for all of Louisiana's 4.6 million citizens to be vaccinated.

"Nobody is happy with where we are right now (with the pace of vaccines), and this is going to continue to improve," he said.

Louisiana Department of Health Dr. Joe Kanter, Edwards' chief COVID-19 adviser, said he expects the pace of the vaccine to pick up in the new year.

Nationally, more than 12.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have shipped to U.S. states, but just over 2.5 million people received shots as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Officials say the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations should pick up significantly in the coming weeks. For now, however, they point to a host of reasons for the lag, including vaccination systems still gearing up, federal funding that hasn't yet been disbursed to states and a requirement that states set aside vaccine for long-term-care facilities.

Add to that two holidays and three major snowstorms, Operation Warp Speed's Gen. Gustave Perna said at a briefing Wednesday.

While the vaccine rollout has been challenging, he said, problems with the system are being addressed.  

"Here's what I have confidence in: Every day, everybody gets better, and I believe that uptake will increase significantly as we go forward," Perna said. 

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today contributed to this report.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.