BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana’s governor urges that while some residents should be able to get COVID-19 vaccines in mid-December, as expected, a few steps remain in the state’s recovery.
Gov. John Bel Edwards highlighted the state’s tentative “vaccination playbook” Tuesday. The 125-page document outlines who would get the vaccines first — and how.
“The reason it’s a draft plan is because we still don’t know the day that we get the first vaccine, and we don’t know how many are going to be there,” the governor told reporters.
“It could be as few as 30,000 might be 60,000,” he added. “We just don’t know for sure right now.”
The state plans to update its playbook in the coming weeks, hinging on CDC guidance.
Trials for vaccines by manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna have shown effectiveness rates above 90%. Both could get the required FDA clearance within weeks, with Pfizer likely to go out first.
Who will get vaccines first?
The state plans to give the vaccines’ first available doses to health care workers, food packing workers, state COVID-19 responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers, as well as people over age 65.
It could take weeks or months before the second stage of distribution, which would offer the vaccine to other essential workers, inmates, as well as adults in the general public with certain preexisting conditions.
The third phase — which would offer injections to most anyone who requests one — isn’t likely until mid-2021, public health experts suggest.
“For a healthy 30-year-old, it’ll probably be more like summer,” said Dr. Susan Hassig, an associate professor at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine.
To be effective, the Pfizer product must stay near minus-70 degrees Celsius — colder than most vaccines — and colder than winter in Antarctica.
“Storage and making sure we don’t waste the vaccine will be important,” Hassig said. “Getting vaccines into smaller communities and more rural communities that don’t have the infrastructure — that ultra-cold freezer space — they would need to use a storage container and plan to distribute the vaccine as soon as they get it.”
The state recently mapped out spots to store the vaccines, though health administrators have kept those locations private, citing security concerns.
The Moderna vaccine would need to stay at minus-20 degrees. That’s still cold, but it’s more manageable for pharmacies to store on their own.
Not a one-and-done vaccine
A COVID-19 vaccine is only effective if those who get a primary injection receive a second one within three to four weeks, public health experts stress.
“Your first dose sets up your immune system to be ready to give a strong immune response when you get the second dose,” Hassig said. “You won’t be protected unless you get the second dose.”
The vaccines are not interchangeable. People who get their first injections from one manufacturer must get their second injections from the same company.
Hassig says the injections’ two-tier nature will require Louisiana to keep close tabs on vaccine recipients.
“Their data management and information management system is going to be absolutely critical to make sure doses get to people who need the second dose when they need it, and that those people are also reminded about coming in for their second dose,” she said.
So far, all known COVID-19 vaccines require two injections.
Stay the course, keep the distance
Despite the vaccines’ progress, Edwards argues the injections cannot come soon enough. The Louisiana Department of Health reported 3,266 virus cases — and 39 deaths — within 24 hours Tuesday.
The case jump led Edwards to tighten the state’s limits on restaurant, bar, church, and nonessential retail space capacities.
“Nobody’s more excited about a vaccine than I am,” the governor said. “But I don’t want to talk about the vaccine, and the fact that we may have a few doses here next month, to cause people to not pay attention to the imperative right now.”
Edwards echoed CDC-backed virus mitigation measures: washing hands frequently, staying six feet apart when possible, avoiding large social gatherings, wearing masks in public.
The state’s “modified Phase Two” restrictions will remain in place through Dec. 23, though the governor hinted that mask use and social distancing should remain musts in the months thereafter — including through the winter holidays.
“The best way to love someone now is not to give them COVID,” he said.
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