BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s health department encouraged hospitals on Tuesday to use their extra doses of the coronavirus vaccine to immunize people aged 70 and older, bidding to boost the limited supply available to hundreds of thousands of people newly eligible for the vaccine under state guidelines.
Hospitals across Louisiana have received thousands of Pfizer vaccine doses for their own workers and continue to receive new doses weekly. The health department said some facilities have excess, and the agency wants those steered to the groups that became eligible for vaccines this week under an expansion decided by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Those groups include the elderly, dentists and their staff, students and faculty at allied health schools, dialysis center staff and patients, and workers at other types of outpatient health care facilities.
The Edwards administration estimated 640,000 people in Louisiana are newly eligible for the shot this week. It wasn’t clear Tuesday how many doses were available at hospitals to administer to them, but it was certain to be a small number.
“We are so encouraged by our residents’ clear demand for the COVID vaccine,” Health Department Secretary Courtney Phillips said in a statement. “While demand is clearly outpacing supply, this is just the start. We do anticipate vaccine will become increasingly available in the coming weeks and months, and as it does we will continue to bring additional sites online.”
More than 100 pharmacies across 51 parishes on Monday began offering the vaccines to people 70 and older, but in small supply and by appointment only. Pharmacies reported being inundated with calls from interested people, but they are expected to receive only about 100 doses each this week.
Some hospital systems already have started offering their extra coronavirus vaccine doses to patients, including Ochsner Health, which has 40 hospitals in its system and more than 100 health clinics.
But it’s not clear how those hospitals are determining who gets vaccinated.
Hospitals are deciding on their own how to divvy up any current and future allotments of vaccine to those newly eligible, in a decentralized approach that makes it murky how patients — or people simply interested and eligible for the vaccine in Louisiana — will be able to get shots.
“We are trying to give them flexibility in how they approach this,” said health department spokesperson Aly Neel.
New Orleans East Hospital, for example, announced Sunday that it would start scheduling appointments this week to administer coronavirus vaccines to those who meet the state guidelines. The hospital released a phone number for people to call to seek an appointment.
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge started vaccinating the expanded list of health care workers last week, reaching about 500 people, according to CEO Scott Wester. That effort was growing this week.
But Wester said the hospital isn’t yet administering vaccines to the broader group of people 70 and older. He expects Our Lady of the Lake to start offering vaccines to the elderly “sometime in the near future,” after working through the logistics of how to roll out that wider vaccination system.
One difficulty, Wester said, is the hospital doesn’t know what amount of vaccine it will receive from week to week. That’s critical to help determine what will be available for new vaccinations while also giving people who got their first dose the required second shot needed a few weeks later.
“It’s a math equation about do we believe we can push out enough resources to vaccinate the population we have,” he said. “The thing you don’t want to do is have a bottleneck system.”
Louisiana reported receiving more than 210,000 doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines through last week. It wasn’t clear how many of those vaccine doses went to hospitals.
In data released Tuesday, the health department said nearly 56,500 first doses have been reported administered so far to hospital staff, EMS workers and people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. They were in the first phase of Louisiana’s prioritization for vaccinations.
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.
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