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Pharmacist Thomas Greene fills syringes with the coronavirus vaccine as the approximately 2,000 doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine arrive for Baton Rouge team members, Thursday, December 17, 2020, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana is receiving nearly 12,000 fewer doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine than initially thought in the second batch set to arrive next week, officials said Friday, the latest in a series of ups and downs for the state’s mass vaccination effort.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office said Friday afternoon the state will get 28,275 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine next week, down from the 40,000 the state had been told to expect.

“This is lower than what had originally been projected for us to receive in our second federal allocation, but by next week, we should have received a total of 67,275 doses of the vaccine in the state, which will be used for frontline health care personnel,” Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens said.

The revision makes Louisiana one of more than a dozen states who have said they will receive fewer doses in next week’s shipment than they had originally been told.

It also comes after hospitals in Louisiana discovered the vials once thought to contain five doses actually contain six in many cases, stretching the state’s first shipment of 39,000 doses to immunize more frontline hospital workers.

In all, Louisiana hospitals have administered at least 11,498 doses, Stephen said, up from around 7,000 on Thursday.

Edwards said Thursday his administration expects to learn each Friday how many doses will arrive the following week. Federal approvals were imminent Friday for Moderna’s vaccine, set to go to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. But Stephens said the state won’t know how many doses are coming until it receives emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It was not clear why the projected doses dropped, but officials in some other states criticized the fluctuating numbers, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee calling it “disruptive and frustrating.”

Stephens said the original estimates were “for planning” and the governor’s office was told the state would get firm numbers on Fridays. The governor’s office was not provided additional information about why the allocation was lower than the planning estimate, she said.

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Pfizer told the Associated Press it has not had any production issues and no shipments are on hold or delayed.

Between the smaller shipment next week and the so-called “angel doses” hospital workers squeezed out of the vials, the total implication on the state’s vaccine allocation was not entirely clear.

Trump administration officials told the Associated Press changes the federal government made to the delivery schedule, to space out deliveries, is responsible for the change. 

Pfizer’s vaccine, developed at breakneck pace, arrived in Louisiana Monday, and Ochsner Health System, followed by other hospitals, quickly went to work immunizing workers who are deemed at high risk because of their proximity to COVID-19 patients.

Those hospital workers, and the staff and residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, make up the approximately 200,000-plus people slated to receive the vaccine in the first phase, 1A, in December and January.

Beyond that, much is unclear. Edwards said he will wait for guidance from federal health experts on who to include in the second phase, indicating other front-line workers could be in line. But he also said he expects to include the elderly and people who have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease.

The vaccines come as the state continues to grapple with high levels of COVID-19 across the state. Dr. Catherine O’Neal, infectious disease expert at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, who was vaccinated Thursday, said the surge is overwhelming hospitals.

“Our hospital is full,” O’Neal said. “Every hospital in the state is full. I worry about my family. I worry about small communities that don't have access to care. We've got to get this pandemic under control if we want to give care to everybody.”

Edwards has urged people not to hold traditional holiday gatherings with people outside their immediate families, pointing to rising cases and hospitalizations after Thanksgiving.

He is expected to announce early next week what the next phase of coronavirus restrictions will look like, once the current modified Phase 2 order expires later in the week. He said Thursday he won’t be loosening restrictions.

The state Health Department also said it will operate testing sites supported by the National Guard from monday, Dec. 21 to Wednesday, Dec. 23, before closing Dec. 24th-26th for the holidays. The sites in the New Orleans are are at the Alario Center in Westwego, UNO Lakefront Arena and Mahalia Jackson Theater. The sites in Baton Rouge are at LSU’s Student Union, Southern University’s FG Clark Activity Center, Cortana Mall and the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Ascension Parish.


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com