Louisiana will claw back 15,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from a federal partnership aimed at immunizing people in nursing homes as the endeavor continues to move slowly, with officials redirecting the doses to pharmacies and other providers to bolster the state’s fledgling supply.

The Health Department confirmed the move Tuesday, the same day the department's secretary, Courtney Phillips, asked a congressional panel to continue to allow the state flexibility with the pool of doses sent to the nursing home program.

Louisiana already received a bump of about 16% of doses in its weekly shipment this week, bringing the total to 67,350. That was part of an effort by President Joe Biden's administration to release more doses to states to jump-start the mass immunization effort.

The 15,600 doses the state is taking from the pool initially allocated for the long-term care program would bring that total closer to 83,000 doses, though it was not immediately clear when the doses will arrive. Eventually, the state is likely to have to devote more doses toward immunizing all residents and staff of long-term care facilities who want it, officials have said. Roughly a third of Louisiana's nearly 8,400 coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes.

Louisiana for the past three weeks has already stopped paying into the bank of doses to be used by the federal government and the chain pharmacies CVS and Walgreens, after sending 93,600 doses to the program. Only 51,445 of those doses had been administered as of Tuesday, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Now, the Biden administration is allowing the state to take the additional 15,600 doses from the pool that is stacking up. That will leave about 78,000 in the federal bank of doses for long-term care facilities. 

The coronavirus vaccine effort is at a crawl in Louisiana nursing homes, but not for lack of doses

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“We have given more doses to that long-term care program than have been administered so far,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the state health officer, adding that odds are, “before this program ends, we’ll have to pay more into it.”

In written testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Phillips, asked for the flexibility in that program to continue.

While she said the state appreciates the efforts of Walgreens and CVS, “the overall lack of proactive communication, awareness and speed of vaccinations continues to be an area of concern.”

“Previously, we have been required to deposit an amount into the program’s dosage bank to help meet the demand in our state; however, due to the slow pace in vaccinating this population, the result has been federal doses unused,” Phillips wrote. “We are very grateful for the flexibility that has been granted in the ability to allocate the necessary amounts to pharmacies.”

Data released last week from the state showed only about a quarter of Louisiana’s nursing home workers who had been offered the vaccine accepted the shots, while 69% of residents took advantage of the immunizations. All nursing homes are expected to have received at least one visit by vaccinators by Feb. 8, state officials have said.

The Health Department also said Tuesday it was joining a federal retail pharmacy program that will give the state some additional doses to administer to people who meet the current eligibility groups. Those include people 70 and older and a range of health care workers, as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities. In Louisiana, 56 Walmart location will participate in the new federal program starting Feb. 11, giving those locations an uptick in doses.

It was not clear Tuesday how many doses the state would receive.

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