moderna vaccine stock file photo

Photo of Moderna coronavirus vaccine. (Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

A federally backed COVID-19 vaccination center is set to open later this month in Baton Rouge with the ability to deliver thousands of shots each day and reach underserved areas across Louisiana’s most populous parish, state and White House officials announced Friday.

The community site will be located at the Bon Carre Business Center on Florida Boulevard, with an anticipated opening on April 14. Once running, the center can deliver 3,000 shots daily and more than 20,000 doses per week for eight weeks.

The site will operate Tuesdays through Sundays and people can sign up for appointments on the Department of Health's website. 

Drive-thru hours run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Louisiana National Guard members will conduct mobile vaccination clinics to reach communities that may not have easy access to shots.

State and local leaders say there is more work to be done in getting shots in arms, and the federally supported center will give that massive undertaking a boost.

“Vaccines are moving the state of Louisiana one step closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Baton Rouge Mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome in a statement Friday, adding that her administration is focused on equitable distribution. “This mass vaccination site should prove to be a vital asset in our fight against the coronavirus.”

Roughly 20% of Louisiana's population is fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health figures. Late last month Gov. John Bel Edwards allowed anyone older than 16 to receive shots.

About one-quarter of the country’s adults have also been fully vaccinated, according to the White House COVD-19 response team.

“Already in Louisiana, we’ve administered more than 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, but we have much work ahead of us to ensure that all Louisianans have the opportunity and ability to access this safe and effective shot that will help us end the pandemic,” Edwards said in a statement Friday.

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Federal health leaders have created other community vaccination centers across the country that are similar to the future Baton Rouge site. It's part of President Joe Biden’s goal of inoculating 200 million Americans by the end of the month and putting vaccine sites within five miles of 90% of American’s homes.

Those sites, including the Baton Rouge center and another announced Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were selected based on a range of criteria that factors race, socioeconomic status and transportation, among others. White House officials said the goal of the centers is to ensure communities at a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure aren’t left behind.

"We are making progress on meeting people where they are," said White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients during a Friday morning news briefing to announce the new centers.

The sites will serve some 30 million Americans. Two-thirds of patients they will serve live at or below the federal poverty level and more than 60% are people of color, Zients said.

More than 10,000 Louisianans are suspected of dying from COVID-19, and the illness has disproportionately impacted Louisiana’s Black community despite making up only about 30% of the state’s population, according to Louisiana Department of Health figures.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, for example, Black residents make up less than half of the population but account for 51% of fatal cases and a disproportionate rate of reported infections, according to state data.

The push to get more Louisianans vaccinated also comes as hospitals and other vaccine providers have noted ebbs and flows in participation — including waning interest ahead of the shots being expanded for anyone older than 16.

Health facilities, community groups and universities have aimed at giving communities greater access to the shots by setting up pop-up clinics and mass vaccination sites that often use a drive-thru setup.

On Saturday, Southern University plans to offer walk-up vaccine clinics at 9 locations, including all of the system's campuses.

Additional doses needed to stock the Baton Rouge community center will be provided by the federal government in addition to weekly allocations the state receives.

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