Louisiana teachers, school support staff, and daycare staff will be eligible for vaccinations starting Monday, Gov John Bel Edwards announced at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
“They’ve been on the front lines of our recovery,” Edwards said, noting that his office has been discussing eligibility to teachers for weeks. Louisiana is now the 23rd state to extend eligibility to teachers.
“We’ve always prioritized teachers as a group because they’re so critical for educating the population,” he added later. “When you conduct on site learning with students in these lower grades, it is almost impossible to remain distant.”
The decision comes after an announcement that Louisiana will begin receiving an increased vaccine allocation from Pfizer in coming weeks. For the past month, the state has been receiving about 75,000 first doses, although next week, that allocation is scheduled to expand to 90,000 first doses.
Edwards estimated that 475,000 additional people will be eligible for the vaccine beginning Monday. That’s about a 40 percent increase over the current 1.2 million eligible. As of Thursday, 541,000 people have received a first dose, and 271,000–about 22 percent of all those eligible–have completed their vaccinations. State officials have previously said they aim to open eligibility when about 80 percent of appointments are being filled.
State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter also announced that the state would be expanding a federal vaccination partnership with CVS that would add more doses on top of the state’s existing capacity.
The new eligibility will also cover pregnant people, as well as those over the age of 55 who have a number of high risk pre-existing health conditions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those include cancer, chronic kidney disease, Down’s syndrome, heart conditions, other immune disorders, sickle cell anemia, obesity, and smoking.
Edwards said that people with those pre-existing conditions will need to sign an attestation form before getting vaccinated. The Times-Picayune New Orleans Advocate has reported that Louisianans were regularly travelling to Mississippi to be vaccinated, because the state was allowing anyone with a number of conditions, including smoking, to receive a shot.
Freezing weather delays shipments
As Edwards announced the expansion, freezing weather has delayed vaccine appointments across the state, as shipments have stalled at pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.
“Our large shipments which would normally come in on Monday and Tuesday haven’t arrived,” Edwards said. He said that those doses likely wouldn’t arrive until the weekend, and that the state would be distributing what amounts to a doubled shipment.
A Louisiana Department of Health alert first published by WDSU attributes the slowdown in part to issues with Moderna’s national distributor, McKesson, which reportedly hasn’t been able to package first doses for shipment.
The delays have been felt nationally, and states and cities all over the country have paused vaccine events.
In a press release earlier in the week, LDH said that a “short delay in getting a second COVID vaccine dose is fine.” But so far, providers say that they have the doses in hand to continue second appointments.
In a statement, Ochsner Health — the state’s largest hospital network — said that it was delaying appointments scheduled at its pharmacies. However, “patients receiving their second vaccine dose or those scheduled to be vaccinated at Ochsner clinics and hospitals are not included.”
The statement said that those impacted by delays would be “contacted directly and added to a priority wait list to be rescheduled as soon as more vaccine arrives.”
In an email, Sarah Babcock, the planning manager for the New Orleans Department of Health, wrote that “the New Orleans Health Department was expected to receive 300 doses of Pfizer vaccine for second dose appointments and 300 doses of Moderna vaccine for first dose appointments this week. None of those doses have arrived thus far.”
The city had begun holding small public vaccination events, targeting at-risk populations and neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward and Central City.
Babcock wrote that second dose appointments will be going forward, because Ochsner provided the city with 300 doses of Pfizer vaccines, although specific details could change. Once the city receives its scheduled Pfizer shipment, it will pass the 300 doses on to Ochsner.
Babcock said that the city doesn’t schedule first-dose appointments until it has vaccines on hand, and so no appointments will be cancelled. “We are hopeful that we will be able to double the number of first dose appointments we have available next week,” she wrote.
Edwards acknowledged that distributing twice as many doses next week could present problems. He argued that that made it a good time to expand eligibility.
“Is it going to be as smooth as it would have been had we not had this winter weather?” he said. “Probably not.”