Louisiana expands coronavirus vaccine eligibility to people 65+ as health officials warn of new surge

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The eligible age for the Phase 1B, Tier 1 group get the COVID-19 vaccine in Louisiana will be lowered from 70 to 65 starting Monday.

With the change announced Thursday by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana will join 29 other states who have already set the eligible age at 65, in line with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some March and April election staff, state & local COVID emergency response personnel and law enforcement, and with members of the state’s unified command group – including Gov. Edwards himself – will also be added to the expanded group. The governor said he will be receiving his first dose next week and that he is looking forward to it.

The state remains in the Phase 1B, Tier 1 phase of distribution, which already included health care employees; EMS workers; firefighters; people with kidney failure; people with disabilities over the age of 16 who receive community or home-based services and their providers; and people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Edwards said the expansion of eligibility requirements will add about 275,000 eligible people to the nearly 900,000 of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents who were already eligible to be immunized in the current phase.

Get details on the latest announcements on vaccine eligibility and distribution in Louisiana here.

More than 404,000 people in Louisiana have received at least their first dose of the two-dose COVID-19 immunization so far, with nearly 131,000 people getting both doses, according to the latest health department data. Louisiana ranked 15th among states Thursday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the CDC.

Demand so far has far outstripped supply. President Joe Biden’s administration has been increasing the vaccine doses sent weekly to states, however, and the number of shots available in Louisiana is expected to grow larger next week, with thousands of new doses available through Walmart pharmacies.

Edwards and Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter also expressed serious concerns Thursday about another surge in cases that could be driven by the new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus showing up across the country and in Louisiana.

Two new cases of the UK variant, SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7, have been confirmed in Southwest Louisiana, bringing the state’s total number of confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant to five — two identified in Region 1 (Greater New Orleans) and three identified in Region 5 (Southwest Louisiana).

“What we are nervous about is this variant,” Kanter said. “It’s hitting us at a time when we’re just recovering from big spike from Christmas and New Year’s. Our ability to detect the variant pales in comparison to how widespread it probably is.”

In fact, Kanter said, the variant is likely already spreading in other areas of the state, and “there is a very good likelihood we’ll have an additional surge before we’re able to achieve immunity.”

On top of that, Edwards said, is the risk posed by more holiday-like gatherings for the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras.

“I’ve very concerned about what we’re already seeing on Bourbon Street,” Edwards said. “Quite frankly, it’s irresponsible, it’s selfish. We’re better than that. We need to do better. I have no doubt it will lead to another surge if we don’t get it under control very quickly.”

There have been a total of 408,995 cases reported statewide since the pandemic began, according to the latest update on the LDH COVID-19 dashboard. The state says 844 of the 2,758 new cases reported Thursday are from a backlog dating as far back as October 22.

The state surpassed the 9,000-mark in deaths on Wednesday, noting that “more people have died from COVID 19 in Louisiana since March 9, 2020 than there are people living in the entire city of Carencro.” Thirty-eight more deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the total to 9,044.

The governor’s extended Phase 2 COVID Mitigation Measures are set to expire next Wednesday, Feb. 10.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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