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Ollie Steele Burden Manor resident Louise McGarrahan Smith, 96, bottom, smiles as looks out from the window of her room, talking with her loved ones including daughter Cindy Shepard, and sons Rod Smith, left, and Dennis Smith, right, reflected in the window, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. The chats through closed windows help residents to still have some contact with their loved ones, despite nursing home lockdowns that have been going on for many weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Traveling clinicians offered a glimmer of hope to some of Louisiana’s most vulnerable citizens Monday as they fanned out across the state to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, with facilities in Baton Rouge waiting anxiously to get their call.

The national rollout of the Moderna vaccine to long-term care facilities marks a critical milestone to ending the devastating human toll and loneliness the pandemic has brought upon the elderly.

Teams from drug chains CVS and Walgreens will soon arrive at long-term care facilities to deliver Modern’s vaccine to more than 23,000 nursing home residents across the state in the coming weeks.

Nursing home facilitators in Baton Rouge say many of their residents see it as a path to put the nearly year-long pandemic behind them and offer a path toward normalcy as they waited for calls from CVS and Walgreens on Monday.

Todd Ford, the administrator at Capital Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Baton Rouge, spent much of Monday morning refreshing his email inbox every few minutes while awaiting word from Walgreens.

“We’re definitely one of the hot areas, and we’re definitely trying to get that going,” he said.

Like several long-term care centers in the state, Capital Oaks received doses of the Moderna vaccine last week where they’ve been cold-stored until the drug chains are able to send clinicians to administer the shots.

Among those who received the first batches of vaccinations Monday included 108 residents and staff at veterans homes in Jennings, as well as another veterans home in Monroe.

Vaccination clinics for Louisiana veterans will continue in the coming weeks at the Louisiana War Veterans' Home in Jackson and on Wednesday at the veterans’ home in Reserve, which saw some of the deadliest outbreaks in the state.

“We just really view this as another tool for us to combat this virus,” said Brandee Patrick, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Veterans Affairs.

Roughly half the state’s allotment of 79,000 Moderna vaccines will go to drugstore chains Walgreens and CVS, which the federal government tapped to administer the vaccine to residents of long-term care centers.

The other vaccine, made by Pfizer, is still being administered to frontline healthcare workers. The vaccines require a second booster shot about a month later.

Both drug companies have reported high levels of efficacy, with the vaccines able to deliver immune responses to shield people from catching COVID-19 around a week after getting jabbed with the first dose.

Louisiana is in the second wave of states receiving vaccines at long-term care facilities and along with 36 other states that began administering doses on Monday.

Since March, long-term care centers and homes housing older adults have been islands of isolation after the coronavirus pandemic saw many take drastic steps to ward off the virus, including restrictions on visitors.

Even still, the virus continued to slip into facilities, wreaking havoc on residents who are older and often have underlying health problems that make them more susceptible to severe and life-threatening complications.

The virus has killed at least 2,365 residents living in at more than 270 nursing homes in Louisiana, while also sickening thousands of employees, according to Louisiana Department of Health figures. No facilities in Louisiana have been spared by the outbreaks, and every long-term care center has reported at least one case among either residents or staff.

When restrictions on visitors were relaxed in the early fall, visits are still tightly-controlled and often through bulky plexiglass shields. Physical touch, including hugs, is still not allowed.

The weeks-long effort to vaccinate long-term care residents and staff will change that.

“I’ve never seen people so anxious to get a vaccine in their life,” said Sharon Dykes, the activities director at Amber Terrace Assisted Living in Baton Rouge. “They want to go out to eat, they want to go shopping at Walmart. They just want to do the things they used to.”


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad