Gov. Edwards “very disappointed” in state’s vaccination rate of 30%

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that he is “very disappointed” with the state’s vaccination rate, which stands now at 30 percent.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Edwards said. “But at the end of the day, we need people to make the decision to be vaccinated.”

“While we’ve done an awful lot of good work and we have really good, dedicated people working extremely hard, we’re not where we want to be and I don’t want to pretend otherwise. We’re second to last among the states in the number of people who have initiated their vaccinations, and we are about fourth or fifth to last or maybe seventh to last in terms of those who have gotten both shots and have completed the vaccination series,” Edwards said. “And for some reason, the Southeast region of our country is the one that’s the most hesitant.”

Moving closer to herd immunity will require more eligible children to be vaccinated, as well. The governor said he was encouraged by the fact that 5,275 children between the ages of 12 and 15 have gotten their first shot since the Pfizer vaccine was approved for that age range last week.

50,041 children in Louisiana have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Edwards, and seven of them have died. In addition to preventing any more death or serious illness among children, state health officials continue to emphasize the fact that vaccinating eligible children also reduces transmission to older, potentially more vulnerable people.

There are signs that there are still a lot of questions about vaccine eligibility and safety for teens. The governor described a “big uptick” in calls to the Louisiana Department of Health’s vaccine hotline (1-855-453-0774) from people with questions along those lines.

“It’s only natural to have questions and want answers, and that is encouraged.”

Pediatric Allergy and Immunology specialist Dr. Theron McCormick was invited to share the answers to some of the most common questions during Thursday’s briefing, including whether the lack of side effects some have reported are a sign that the vaccine isn’t working and how effective the Pfizer vaccine is in children.

Are the vaccines safe for children

“They more than certainly are,” McCormick said, explaining that “quite a bit of data” showed the same amount of side effects, if any, as were seen in those 16 to 25 and older individuals who participated in trials. Among them, fever and sometimes fatigue, which is more common and more so after second vaccine.

“They will have fever, they will feel disturbed and have restless sleep,” McCormick said. “The immune system is a wonderful thing, and so when it is revved up, for some people, they feel awful. For others, not so much. And just because you don’t develop fever or fatigue, or have those findings that are kind of associated with the vaccine or your immune system kind of kicking into overdrive, it doesn’t mean that it’s not working. It’s just a variability of the response.”

How effective is the vaccine for younger groups?

McCormick pointed to one of the pivotal studies of just over 2,300 individuals 12 to 15, where the children were split into two groups: one that got the vaccine, the other got the placebo.

“The group that recieved the vaccine did not have COVID-19 and the placebo group had about 15. So that’s nearly 100% if not 100% effectiveness with regards to preventing COVID-19.”

Acknowledging rare and unfortunate cases where some of those who have gotten the vaccine and still gotten sick or passed, McCormick said, “Nothing is universal, but when you have something that’s vaccine-preventable in the larger sense, you do not want to let perfect be the enemy of good. I tell my children, a 95 is an A, just like 100 is an A, so it does the job.”

Do the kids need the vaccine when they haven’t been been affected by the virus as much as adults?

“The answer is yes. I mean, our children go to school. We would like them to go to school with less restrictions over time. They’re going to be around some of our vulnerable populations and around adults. And so, they can catch this virus and we have seen children as young as 16-17 months have COVID-19 and as Dr. Kanter mentioned, we’ve seen children pass away from this virus and some of them had “long COVID” symptoms or what we call sequelae or signs and symptoms that are after an actual infection. These are not things we want for our children and so once we have that 12 to 15 population vaccinated, we can feel a little bit more comfortable that we’re moving towards herd immunity, which is so difficult to achieve, but that’s our goal.”

State Epidemiologist Theresa Sokol also joined the briefing with her daughter, who participated in a Moderna trial and believes she did receive the vaccine because she experienced side effects.

Close to 200 people have been able to get vaccinated in their homes because they are homebound, according to the governor. He also noted that those who need transportation to get the vaccine can call 211 to for information on how to get a ride from Lyft, whose services are provided by the federal government for those who qualify.

State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said the state only ordered 88.7% of the vaccines allotted from the federal government last week. Of those, 99 percent were distributed and 77 of those have gone into arms. While most of the key indicators for the state’s COVID-19 status are “more or less flat,” statewide positivity rate has risen slightly to 3.4%

Still, Kanter said it is very encouraging that the number of hospitalizations statewide has remained below 350 since the beginning of April, something that has not happened since before the first spike 14 months ago.

427 new COVID-19 cases were reported statewide Thursday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, bringing the total number of cases to 467,575 since the first case was reported on March 9, 2020. The state’s first death was reported five days later on March 14. The eight new deaths reported Thursday bring the total to 10,517.

During his media briefing Thursday afternoon, the governor also warned of more rain expected over the next few days in south and southwest Louisiana, including areas that have already been hit by flooding. Four of the five storm-related deaths have been related to flooding.

Rainy weather and flooding have already brought widespread damage in parts of south Louisiana and are suspected factors in at least four Louisiana deaths. One person is still missing after a car went into a canal.

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