As demand for the coronavirus vaccine continues to dwarf Louisiana's available supply, a little-known group meeting out of public sight is advising Gov. John Bel Edwards and state officials in their decisions of who is eligible for the immunizations and who may be next in line.
The Vaccine Action Collaborative — established by the state Department of Health — holds monthly meetings to help “prioritize the allocation of the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to health department spokesperson Aly Neel.
“Their work has shaped how and whom Louisiana is vaccinating,” Neel said.
But the collaborative's meetings aren't advertised, and they don't appear to be open to the public.
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The group is among similar advisory committees across several states that The Associated Press found is holding closed-door meetings that help sway critical decision-making about how the vaccines are steered and who gets the first shots.
Edwards has stressed that he makes the final decision on who is prioritized for Louisiana's limited vaccine supply, based on guidance from a panel of scientific experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Democratic governor's own public health advisers.
That list of advisers apparently includes the state's Vaccine Action Collaborative.
Neel said people from professional boards, members of academia, healthcare providers, first responders, community stakeholders and public health experts serve on the panel, selected by the state health department. She didn't provide a list of the member names.
In addition to informing decisions for vaccine eligibility, she said the collaborative's work groups “plan for vaccine receipt, storage, distribution, dispensing and documentation."
While those type of advisory committee meetings are open to the public in at least 15 other states, the meetings in Louisiana were limited to members or others “invited to see the work,” Neel said. She didn't respond to questions about why the public was excluded from seeing the discussions, which could have widespread implications on how the state broadens eligibility for the vaccine as President Joe Biden's administration is promising increased doses to states and pharmacies.
The Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines in Louisiana currently are available to health care employees; EMS workers; firefighters; people with kidney failure; anyone aged 70 and older; people with disabilities over the age of 16 who receive community- or home-based services and their providers; and people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Nearly 900,000 of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents are eligible to be immunized right now, under Edwards’ eligibility rules.
More than 384,000 people in the state have received at least their first dose of the two-dose immunization so far, with nearly 104,000 people getting both doses, according to the latest health department data. Louisiana ranked 15th among states Wednesday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.