All Louisiana residents 16 or older eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

All Louisiana residents who are at least 16 years old will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination starting Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday.

Vaccinations currently are limited to certain job categories, people with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the illness and residents who are at least 65 years old. Providers who have doses from that week’s allocation are announced each Monday, and officials said appointments are required.

“In the not-too-distant future, we’re going to have doses for everybody that wants one,” Edwards said. “What we need to do is make sure that everybody wants one. Doses in and of themselves do nothing to end the pandemic, but vaccinations will.”

Louisiana officials expect to receive more than 148,000 first doses from the federal government next week, easily the biggest allocation so far. That total doesn’t count direct shipments to the federal government’s pharmacy partners or more than 32,000 doses that had been reserved for long-term care facilities that now will be available to the general public, officials said.

Three types of approved vaccines are available. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to get the full benefit, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single dose. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16- and 17-year-olds and older, while the other two are approved for only adults.

President Joe Biden has set a goal for all states to make all adult residents eligible by May 1. Edwards had expected Louisiana to reach that goal well before that date but said he was surprised to find out this week the state would be getting enough vaccines to reach that point so soon.

State officials are launching a “Bring Back Louisiana” vaccination outreach campaign next week, starting with nine zip codes in each of the nine regions the Louisiana Department of Health divides the state into. Communities were chosen based on their vulnerability to public health threats and vaccination rates; both urban and rural areas are included, LDH’s Dr. Joseph Kanter said.

“This is only the beginning,” he said.

Kanter said fewer residents are hesitant to get vaccinated than when vaccines first were available, though many people still are resistant. He said the progress the state has made in controlling the pandemic since the post-holiday surge has stalled, which may be a “warning sign.”

Kanter singled out the Lake Charles region in southwest Louisiana as a source of concern. The number of cases in the region has been growing in recent weeks, and the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has risen to almost 12%.

Meanwhile, more dangerous variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continue to circulate, adding urgency to the effort to vaccinate as much of the population as possible, officials said.

“We’re in a race against time,” Kanter said.