Gov. Edwards announces plans to expand groups prioritized to get COVID-19 vaccine


BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday announced plans to expand the groups prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning next week.

In his final media briefing of the year on Louisiana’s response to COVID-19, Edwards said the state has been told to expect 28,275 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 27,400 of the Moderna vaccine next week, allowing vaccinations to begin for the next priority group.

“Obviously, this is great news because we really need to get as many Louisianans vaccinated as quickly as possible because that is the way that we ultimately put this pandemic behind us.”

That will be Phase 1B, Tier 2, which will include those with end-stage renal disease personnel and clients as well as home health care agency patients and personnel. It will also include people aged 70 and older. That is a slight departure from CDC recommendations that limit initial priority to those 75 and older, but Edwards said that decision is driven by the data in Louisiana on who is most at highest risk for severe cases and who is ending up in the hospital and who is most likely to die.

“As best we can, early on, we want to preserve hospital capacity, and we want to save lives.”

About 640,000 people across the state fall into those categories.

The governor said more than 45,000 vaccinations have been administered so far to hospital workers, EMS, nursing home staff and residents, and others in the first phase and that distribution to Phase 1A will continue. That group includes approximately 249,000 people across that state.

Edwards also said says no one in the state has had a significant adverse reaction to any of the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. He also noted that both of the vaccines currently being distributed require two shots and that those who receive it are not considered vaccinated until they receive the second dose.

When the vaccines become available at designated pharmacies around the state for those eligible in the latest priority group, the governor urged patience because doses will be limited initially.

“Not everyone who is in these priority groups is going to be able to get a vaccine next week. I think the numbers kind of speak for themselves in that regard, but we do have the opportunity to get started and that’s what we’re going to do next week.”

Appointments will be required, as the state does not want people to be lined up for hours as has happened in other states, and because pharmacies will have to carefully manage the doses due to refrigeration and handling requirements.

Information about which pharmacies will be administering the vaccine for the next phase will be posted on the Louisiana Department of Health website Monday.

Those who will be included in Phase 1B Tier 2 will included teachers, grocery store workers, other essential workers that keep state functioning. Edwards said it’s not known yet exactly when people in this group will be eligible, but that it is important to let people know ahead of time who is next in line.

The briefing comes as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported the highest number of daily cases to date that does not contain a backlog or multiple days of reporting, with 6,754 new cases statewide. The previous highest number of cases reported was 4,339 new cases on December 9.

“This is a really big number, there’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Edwards said Thursday morning.

The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals around the state has continued to steadily rise since the day after Christmas, hitting yet another new eight-month high at 1,717 as of Tuesday. More than 7,000 people have died.

Thursday’s briefing also comes two days after the death of Congressman-elect Luke Letlow from complications of COVID-19, making him the first Congress member or member-elect to die from the coronavirus. Other sitting members have tested positive and recovered.

Edwards has announced he will order flags to be flown at half-staff on the day of Letlow’s funeral. 

New Orleans on Wednesday canceled New Year’s fireworks and told its bars and breweries that state pandemic restrictions mean they must close indoor seating as the positivity rate in the parish remained above 5% for a second week.

“Just as with other holidays this year, we’ve had to significantly adjust what New Year’s celebrations will look like in New Orleans,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a news release. “That means no large parties, no riverfront fireworks, and no spectators at the fleur-de-lis drop. Please stay at home and ring in the New Year safely with the members of your immediate household.”

Bars, breweries and adult entertainment can keep outdoor seating for up to 50 socially distanced people and drive-thru, takeout and curbside pickup.

According to Department of Health spokesman Sean Ellis, only three parishes — Winn, East Feliciana and East Carroll — currently meet the state requirement for indoor seating at such businesses.

Cantrell said New Orleans will still host the televised Central Time Zone “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” but no in-person viewing will be allowed for its musical performances and the descent of a giant fleur de lis at the Jax Brewery shopping mall in the French Quarter. New Orleans police will keep vehicles and pedestrians out of the area and will keep crowds from forming, the mayor said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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