Thanks to the number of hurricanes hitting the state, a Louisiana company will be able to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine far faster than other states.

Louisiana’s biggest hospital systems, like Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, will get the vaccines directly from Pfizer once the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approves moving 3 million doses.

That’ll be the case in most states with the larger systems getting medicine. But the smaller hospitals, the ones with fewer than 975 staffers in line to vaccinated, will have to quickly travel to those hospitals and fetch their doses, then get back to administer the injections.

In Louisiana, Morris & Dickson LLC, a Shreveport-based medications distributer, will be able to break out the doses into the smaller quantities, then will deliver to the smaller hospitals and healthcare facilities scattered across the state.

“In Louisiana all of our 64 parishes, all of the hospitals and first responders that are authorized in this first wave will get it at the same time,” said Paul Dickson Sr., the chief executive officer at the family-owned company.

“We will have complete and thorough distribution in Louisiana,” he added Friday.

The vaccines are hoped to eventually end a pandemic in which a total of 15.7 million Americans have been infected and 293,000 have died. On Friday, Mississippi announced that the state’s hospitals have run out of intensive care beds.

Pending federal approvals, Louisiana officials expect 39,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine will start being injected into the state’s health workers early next week, followed by another 40,000 doses the following week.

Between 200,000 and 215,000 people are estimated to be in the first priority group for the vaccines, according to Louisiana Health Department figures. That includes 75,000 to 80,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and between 125,000 and 135,000 health workers.

The vaccine is shipped in trays and each tray holds 195 vials, which calculates to 975 doses. The medication can last six months at negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit, said Paul Dickson Jr., vice president of operations and in charge of putting together the distribution.

The medication can be held below 28 degrees Fahrenheit for five days.

Morris & Dickson has experience dealing with ultra-cold requirements, he said.

Smaller facilities often don’t want to vaccinate all at once because some people will suffer side effects and feel a little ill for 24 hours-to-48 hours. They’re trying not to have too many staffers call in sick at the same time.

“We’re going to do the state tells us to do,” Dickson Jr. said. “We’re hearing from the field that we’re going to need to the net this out.”

Dickson Sr. said the company developed the necessary procedures during frequent hurricanes. “We frequently do encounter healthcare distribution issues during hurricane. That really is what helped foster a relationship between the state of Louisiana and Morris Dickson,” he said.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.