Louisiana expands COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to teachers, among others

Louisiana teachers, school support staff, day care workers, pregnant women and residents age 55-64 with certain health conditions will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination starting Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

Qualifying health conditions are listed on the Louisiana Department of Health’s website and include cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, several heart conditions, obesity, sickle cell disease, smoking and Type 2 diabetes. Residents in the new age range will be required to fill out a form attesting they have at least one of the conditions before getting vaccinated.

Vaccination is available by appointment only. State officials announce on Mondays the locations and contact information for providers getting some of the state’s vaccine supply each week.

Currently eligible groups include residents age 65 and older; dialysis providers and patients; health care and dental clinic workers; home care providers and recipients; sign language interpreters and clients who are deaf and blind; lab, mortuary and pharmacy staff; allied health school students, residents and staff; some election workers and emergency response personnel; and the state’s Unified Command Group, which includes the governor.

Almost 1.65 million Louisiana residents now are eligible, according to the governor’s office.

The eligibility expansion reflects an expected increase in the number of vaccine doses the federal government said it will supply, Edwards said. Vaccine shipments this week were delayed because of the extreme winter weather affecting much of the country, officials said.

“This signifies the value of our essential employees and will enable even more Louisiana centers and schools to be fully open to serve students, families and communities,” State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said. “Although not perfect, Louisiana has managed to maintain an early child care system and a K-12 educational program throughout this pandemic.”

About 67% of Louisiana students are attending in-person classes, the governor’s office said. Decisions about whether classes should meet in person, online or a mix of the two largely are left to local system leaders.

Almost 813,000 Louisiana residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and almost 542,000 have gotten both an initial dose and the follow-up shot needed to receive the full benefit, according to the state health department.

State health officials reported 832 new COVID-19 cases Thursday and 15 new deaths, bringing the number of fatalities to at least 8,753 and 9,406 when probable cases are included. There are 823 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, officials reported, which is the state’s lowest hospitalization count since before Thanksgiving.

Forty-six of Louisiana’s 64 parishes are rated at the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s an improvement, but it’s not great,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health. “There is still a lot of risk out there.”