Louisiana releases vaccine demographics, but data vague

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A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in front of displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken, October 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Nearly six weeks after coronavirus vaccinations began, Louisiana on Friday began releasing demographic details on who’s received shots, but the data lacks key pieces of information to determine if the state’s doses are being distributed equitably.

In particular, few vaccine providers are identifying recipients’ race in the data submitted to the Louisiana Department of Health, undermining Gov. John Bel Edwards’ efforts to ensure minority groups have adequate access to the doses.

The information shows at least 33% of Louisiana’s nearly 273,000 vaccine recipients are white and at least 10% are black. But another 56% of those who have received the shots were listed by the vaccine administrators as “unknown” or “other.”

Edwards is calling on the hospitals, clinics and pharmacies vaccinating people in Louisiana to start providing more complete data.

“We will make sure that that data is better represented going forward,” he said Friday.

The Democratic governor’s chief public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, sent a letter to the facilities Tuesday notifying them of a responsibility to “accurately enter the self-identified race” of vaccine recipients into the state’s immunization computer system.

In addition, the state hasn’t provided a racial breakdown of the nearly 900,000 people who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine — to use as a point of comparison. About 63% of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents are white, while one-third are Black. But those percentages don’t necessarily extend to the eligibility categories for vaccination.

The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in Louisiana are available to health care employees; EMS workers; firefighters; people with kidney failure; anyone aged 70 and older; 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 has repeatedly focused on equity in Louisiana’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. When the first data showed larger percentages of African Americans dying from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus, the governor created a Health Equity Task Force looking at ways to bolster testing and lessen risks specifically in minority communities.

For example, the task force and the state health department held a Friday webinar aimed at easing hesitancy among Black residents to getting the coronavirus vaccine.

Other data released by the health department shows 61% of vaccine recipients in Louisiana are female, while 39% are male. More than half the vaccine doses administered have gone to people aged 70 and older.

Louisiana, like other states, continues to have more interest in the vaccine than shots available. Some hospitals and clinics have reported having to cancel immunization appointments because they didn’t have enough vaccine doses to distribute.

Edwards said the state is trying to divvy up its weekly doses from the federal government to ensure that people in every parish have fair access to vaccination. That means hospitals, clinics and pharmacies don’t necessarily receive the same amount of vaccine from the state each week.

But the broader problem is that Louisiana has more overall demand than supply from the federal government. The state has been receiving about 58,000 doses weekly for the last few weeks — and Kanter said federal officials have told Louisiana to expect similar allocations for the next four to five weeks, with no significant increases.

Edwards said Louisiana is planning for mass vaccination events, but can’t do so until the number of vaccine doses heading to the state each week grows larger.

“In order to resource (mass events) with vaccine, we would literally have to stockpile vaccine over a period of time,” the governor said. “We would be holding it back in order to put it together to have a mass vaccination event. That defeats the purpose.”

Louisiana ranked 10th among states Friday for the number of doses administered per capita, according to data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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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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