From December 2020, Chelsea Buchanan, Emergency Department RN at Ochsner Medical Center, Jefferson Highway, receives her COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo courtesy of Ochsner Health)

On Sunday night, just after Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was given an emergency use authorization by the FDA, Chelsea Buchanan received a text message inviting her to sign up for a dose. Buchanan, an emergency department nurse at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson Parish, described the feeling as “surreal.”

“There was this sense of relief — like, is this finally happening? It’s been a very long few months since March,” she said. 

Buchanan was the second person vaccinated at Ochsner Monday morning, after the first package of vaccines arrived in an overnight shipment from Michigan.

“It makes you feel that there’s actually hope in what we’ve been doing for the last few months,” she said.

Ochsner began administering the shots to employees who work directly with COVID patients, per recommendations from the Louisiana Department of Health. So far, Ochsner has received 975 doses, although it expects more by Wednesday.

Louisiana expects to receive 39,000 doses of the vaccine out of this week’s initial nationwide run of about 3 million. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said that the state will receive around 40,000 more Pfizer vaccines next week. LDH estimates that there are between 125,000 and 135,000 frontline healthcare workers in the state.

In a press conference filmed on Monday as the first Ochsner employees received shots, Dr. Robert Hart, Ochsner’s chief medical officer, said that this week’s shipments would cover 88 percent of the system’s frontline employees.

The state also expects to receive a further 80,000 doses of a second vaccine — developed by Moderna — by December 27, which will be distributed to long-term care facilities. LDH estimates that there are 75,000 to 85,000 people in those settings. The Moderna vaccine has yet to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA, but that is expected to come as soon as this week. It will enter the final stages in the approval process on Thursday. 

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart to be fully effective. The state plans to use every single initial dose from the first shipment, and give those 39,000 people a booster shot with subsequent shipments of the vaccine. Last week, the federal government announced that it would reserve half of the first 6.5 million run of shots for boosters.

But as of Tuesday morning, there was still little clarity over where the initial shipment of 39,000 doses would actually be sent and used.

Most of those shots were slated to be shipped directly to hospital systems. Last week, Ochsner, the state’s largest hospital network, said that by Wednesday, it would receive 5,125 doses at the Jefferson campus, where it has the ultra-cold freezer necessary to store the vaccines at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. The hospital system planned to receive more than 9,000 across Louisiana, with the roughly 4,000 other doses split between Lafayette and Shreveport.

As of Monday evening, LDH reported that Ochsner’s Jefferson campus and Willis Knighton-Shreveport had received their shipments, and that Christus-Alexandria was scheduled to receive doses by the end of the day.

LDH was also supposed to receive a number of vaccines directly, which it would distribute to smaller institutions. However, as of Tuesday morning, LDH officials could not provide details on how many doses it had received. 

LCMC Health, which operates six hospitals in the New Orleans area, received a shipment of the vaccine this morning at its University Medical Center campus, and will begin administering them today, but a spokesperson did not yet know how many doses had arrived or if more were expected.

The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which received doses through a separate program from the state allocation, was one of the first VA facilities to begin vaccinating patients. Louisiana’s first presumptive COVID case was treated at the VA in early March.

According to a press release, the VA will be giving doses to frontline healthcare workers and veterans in long-term care at community living and spinal cord injury centers. That’s in line with the state’s prioritization process.

However, it’s not clear how many doses the VA received, or how many employees and long-term care recipients it will need to vaccinate. The VA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.