BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will expand coronavirus vaccine access next week to another half-million people, allowing teachers, child care workers and older people with certain medical conditions to get the shots, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday.
The full list of people who will be newly eligible starting Monday includes K-12 teachers, administrators and school support staff; those who work at day care centers, early learning facilities and other sites that provide childcare; pregnant women; and people age 55 to 64 who have one of a dozen preexisting conditions. Those conditions include cancer, Type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sickle cell disease, obesity and chronic kidney disease, among others.
Edwards said he widened the availability of the vaccine because the state is seeing an increased supply of doses each week from the federal government.
“We’re going to have more doses to administer next week than we’ve ever had before. From that perspective, it’s exactly the right time to add that next priority group,” the Democratic governor said.
Meanwhile, nearly half the estimated 1.2 million people already eligible for the COVID-19 immunizations in Louisiana have received at least their first dose of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Still, demand continues to exceed the available supply of doses, in Louisiana and across the nation. The 475,000 people newly eligible Monday will have to find a vaccine provider with an available appointment, an effort that isn’t always quick or simple.
Teachers had been vocal about frustration they weren’t eligible for the shots — particularly with a national push to reopen schools to in-person instruction, many of Louisiana’s students already back in classrooms for months and Edwards having won his elections with teacher union support.
“Being able to get to them is really important for our state. As we all know, they’ve been on the front lines of this pandemic and play a critical role in our continued recovery,” said Edwards, whose wife was a teacher.
About 64% of Louisiana’s K-12 schools are holding in-person classes and another 15% are offering some onsite instruction, according to state data.
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said in a statement he was “grateful and relieved” to see vaccine access expanded to early childhood workers and school employees. He said he expected that “will enable even more Louisiana centers and schools to be fully open to serve students, families and communities.”
Those who gain access under the expansions announced Thursday will be added to a list that includes anyone age 65 and older; health care employees; law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders; people with kidney failure; people with disabilities over the age of 16 who receive community- or home-based services and their providers; people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; state and local officials handling COVID-19 response; and workers for the upcoming March and April elections.
With those additions, more than 1.6 million of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents will have access to the coronavirus shots — but most of them can only get vaccinated if they schedule their own appointments through the network of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and community vaccine sites administering the doses.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been increasing the vaccine doses sent weekly to states, through the allocations that states get to distribute to vaccine providers and through direct shipments to pharmacies.
However, this week’s vaccine shipments to Louisiana and several other states have been delayed by icy weather that has disrupted electricity and closed roads, forcing cancellations of immunization appointments.
Edwards said Louisiana’s shipments for this week could reach the state as late as Saturday, so vaccine providers could take several days to work through the backlog of doses. The governor’s top public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, said his office hadn’t received any reports of wasted vaccine because of the icy weather.
Nearly 542,000 people in the state have received at least their first dose of the two-dose vaccine so far, with more than 271,000 people getting both doses, according to health department data. Louisiana ranked 16th among states Thursday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the CDC.