Louisiana added more than 100 pharmacies and other providers administering vaccines to elderly patients across the state on Monday, as officials race to catch up with skyrocketing demand from patients over 70 years and hospitals systems ramp up the immunizations.
After delivering shipments of 100 vaccine doses each to 107 pharmacies last week, the Louisiana Department of Health said Monday it would send more doses to those pharmacies and 102 additional providers this week. In all, 209 providers in all 64 parishes will get doses, the agency said, most of them pharmacies. They include 87 chain pharmacies, 93 independent pharmacies, 20 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), and 9 health care sites.
Ochsner Health System, the state’s largest, also said it was kicking vaccines into high gear. Over the weekend, the system administered more than 22,000 doses, CEO Warner Thomas told The Advocate and The Times-Picayune. In all, the system had given shots to nearly 28,000 patients who are 70 or older, and had administered 57,035 vaccine doses total.
Pharmacies, which were tapped to help distribute the vaccine widely to people over 70 years of age, only received 10,500 doses in all last week. This week, doses will be available from several sources. Some will be directly shipped from Moderna, some are coming from a 13,500-dose surplus at the state’s distributor and some clinics are making their extra doses available to the public.
Still, the Louisiana Department of Health wouldn't say how many doses those facilities are receiving this week. Kevin Litten, a spokesperson for the agency, said most pharmacies will receive 100 doses of Moderna's vaccine, while some in parishes without many providers enrolled received an order of 200 doses. Providers including 10 high-volume pharmacies, two federally qualified health centers and two Tier 1 hospitals placed requests for direct large shipments of 975 doses of Pfizer's vaccine.
See a list of the providers offering vaccines to the elderly and health workers. Several hospitals that have also started offering vaccines to people in the Phase 1B priority group are not included in this list.
The Health Department has told patients not to arrive at locations without an appointment expecting to be vaccinated, advising them to instead call or make an appointment on the website.
The agency also said in a new release that "participating providers must make vaccines available to anyone who is eligible. Failure to do so will inform future decisions about distribution."
Thomas, of Ochnser, said the health system has 20 clinics and seven pharmacies doling out vaccinations to the elderly. Demand is soaring. The system has already scheduled 113,000 vaccine appointments over the next eight weeks, Thomas said. Unlike many pharmacies, Ochsner is not creating wait lists until more doses come in, and is instead relying on more shipments of vaccines to come in over the next two months to meet the demand.
“We are concerned about being able to have the right supply over the coming weeks,” Thomas said. “We’ve given (the state) a lot more transparency into our go-forward appointments.”
Ochsner officials said they have been combatting online misinformation surrounding the vaccine, something echoed by other hospital leaders around the state. Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, the hospital’s medical director of infection control and prevention, said some patients told her they thought there were trackers in the vaccine, a false rumor that has spread on social media platforms like Facebook.
The hospital has not set a deadline for workers to get the vaccine, and is instead trying to promote its safety and efficacy. Dr. Robert Hart, the chief medical officer at Ochsner, said about 48% of hospital staff has gotten the shot so far, and more are coming forward as they see their colleagues experience limited side effects.
Ochsner officials also said while staffing levels are a challenge in the vaccination effort, the system has the ability to ramp up its immunizations if more doses become available.
“If we got more vaccine and knew that we had a really significant supply coming in we could make some changes not only in our day to day but our planning for the weekends to ramp up the vaccine administration which would move us through the 70-plus population fairly quickly and move to the next classifications,” Hart said.
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center started vaccinations for elderly patients at its north Baton Rouge clinic Wednesday, and has so far vaccinated nearly 600 people, said Ryan Cross, a spokesperson for the Lake.
“We continue to schedule our patients based on available vaccine supply,” Cross said. “Our ambitious goal this week is 3,500. In the coming weeks, our intention is to be at a steady vaccination rate of 10,000-20,000 per week across our markets in Lafayette, Monroe, Northshore, Bogalusa and Baton Rouge, continuing to expand availability as we work closely with the state and our many community partners.”
After seeing vaccinations lag at hospitals in the first weeks of the state’s effort, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on New Year’s Eve he was expanding the immunizations to the next phase beyond nursing homes and hospital workers. That gave people older than 70 and a list of other health care workers the opportunity to get vaccinated.
The current Phase 1B priority group for the vaccine offers immunizations to people 70 and older, as well as end stage renal disease facility personnel and patients, ambulatory and outpatient health care workers, home agency patients and workers and schools of allied health students, residents and staff.
While many hospital workers have hesitated to get the vaccine immediately, demand from elderly patients immediately overwhelmed pharmacies, which put thousands of names on waitlists last week.
At the same time, hospitals began shifting their focus – and their thousands of unused doses – to elderly patients.
Aly Neel, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health, said just because the 107 pharmacies that received doses last week are getting resupplied this week, it doesn’t guarantee they will continue to get doses moving forward.
“The biggest limiting factor is the amount of vaccine available to us,” she said.