BATON ROUGE, La. (The Livingston Parish News) – While Louisiana folks cheered a move forward in the state’s ongoing fight against the coronavirus, officials shared some news that may bring things a slight step back.
As the state was preparing to receive its first shipment of the “game-changer” Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, officials said they were told not to expect another shipment for at least a few weeks, very likely until the end of the month.
The announcement came on the same day Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state would move to Phase Three of reopening following several weeks of improving COVID-19 numbers.
The temporary delay in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was granted emergency authorized use last weekend, was a “disappointing” blow to the state’s vaccination effort that surpassed 1 million doses this week.
Because of the J&J vaccine’s “advantages” — most notably being a single-dose series, being easier to administer and handle, and having no ultra-cold storage requirement — officials had hoped it would lead to more mass events to spur vaccinations.
For now, those plans will have to be altered.
“Obviously, this is going to change the way we do things,” Edwards said Tuesday.
This week, Louisiana was set to receive nearly 38,000 doses of the J&J vaccine for distribution through hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. Combined with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the state should get more than 135,000 doses this week — its most in a one-week shipment to date.
As of the latest data, about 14 percent (or 657,265) of Louisianans have received at least one shot of the vaccine so far, while roughly 8 percent (or 368,146) have received both shots needed for full protection. The state began administering vaccines in mid-December.
Louisiana recently expanded the list of those eligible for vaccinations, making shots available to roughly 1.65 million residents.
“That really is the way that we put this pandemic behind us,” Edwards said of vaccinations last week. “There is no other way.”
Dr. Joe Kanter, the state health officer, continued to laud the merits of the J&J vaccine, calling it “a tremendous advance in our fight against COVID.” He described it as an “incredibly well-studied vaccine” and said its trial was the “largest to date,” with more than 40,000 people across the world participating.
The J&J vaccine was also uniquely diverse, Kanter said, adding that 17 percent of participants identified as Black and 45 percent as hispanic. It was tested not only in the U.S. but also in Latin America, Brazil, and South Africa.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Kanter said “not a single person” died from COVID-19 or went to the hospital because of COVID-19 28 days after taking the J&J vaccine.
“This is substantial… and this is going to be a game changer in our fight against COVID,” Kanter said.
This week, the White House announced a partnership between Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical giant Merck, which would help manufacture the J&J vaccine. Merck will produce the drug substance at the heart of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as well as work on filling vaccine vials and getting them ready for distribution.
Next week, Kanter said the state will receive 57,330 doses of the Pfizer vaccine — just shy of 5,000 more than this week — and 45,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.