BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With a third coronavirus vaccine nearing federal approval, Louisiana is on track for its largest shipments of doses to date and could soon receive enough shots to roll out larger immunization locations, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.
Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser, said federal officials have told Louisiana that it should receive about 38,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine the first week after its FDA approval. And that approval could come as soon as this weekend.
Those doses would come on top of the 97,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines the state expects to receive next week.
“If all of those line up, that will be the biggest allocation we’ve had to date, and it couldn’t come at a better time,” Kanter said at a news briefing with Edwards.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine in many ways is easier to use because it’s a one-dose shot and doesn’t require ultra-cold storage, making it easier to transport and store. Kanter said both its ease of use and the increased supply of vaccine it offers would help Louisiana expand its community vaccine sites and create new immunization locations.
The one-shot vaccine “is a good candidate for mass vaccination events,” Edwards said.
More than 1.6 million of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents have access to the coronavirus shots — but most of them can only get vaccinated if they schedule their own appointments through the network of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and community vaccine sites administering the doses.
About 13% of the state’s total population has received at least the first dose of the two-dose vaccine regimens available, according to state health department data. Edwards credited the vaccine with helping to shrink the number of people hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease.
Those hospitalizations topped 2,000 in January but have steadily declined since then, dropping to 679 on Thursday.
“I think there are the earliest signs that the vaccinations are making a difference,” Edwards said.
The Democratic governor targeted the state’s earliest vaccine doses to frontline health care workers, people in nursing homes and the elderly in an effort to lessen the pressure on hospitals by protecting their staff and immunizing those most at risk for severe impacts from COVID-19.
Edwards expanded eligibility Monday to teachers and K-12 school staff, day care workers and people age 55 to 64 with certain preexisting conditions.
Nearly 594,000 people in the state have received at least their first dose of the vaccine so far, with more than 332,000 people getting both doses, according to health department data. Louisiana ranked 30th among states Thursday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A week of icy, snowy weather disrupted the flow of vaccine doses to Louisiana and other states. That caused Louisiana, which had been doing better than many other states in quickly distributing its vaccine doses, to fall behind.
Kanter said Louisiana received its final shipment from last week’s allocation Thursday, doses that came on top of this week’s supply. With appointments still being rescheduled, he said it will take some time for the state to catch up on its vaccinations and use up the available doses.
In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office announced that the city’s pandemic restrictions on restaurants, group gatherings and stadium crowds will be relaxed slightly Friday because of sustained decreases in new COVID-19 cases and transmission rates. Under the new plans, the city’s guidelines will move closer to Edwards’ statewide restrictions.
AP reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed to this story from New Orleans.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak. Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.