Things are getting better as we continue to deal with our ongoing health emergency, but we’re still in a pandemic.

There was more good news recently when Louisiana Department of Health officials announced that all people 18 years of age and older can get COVID-19 booster shots.

Louisiana has been showing signs of real progress. Our state’s number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have continued to decline. In August, not that long ago, we were facing a devastating impact as the result of a serious fourth surge of the virus. Since then, our cases have declined to a few hundred and our death toll on one recent day was limited to 11.

No number of deaths is acceptable, and that’s why it’s important that we continue to do the things we can do to reduce our risks and bring an end to the pandemic.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said the booster is “critical” as he, state health officials and all of us focus on having some happy holidays and avoiding yet another surge. “The vaccines are widely available, safe and offer the most effective protection we have against this virus,” the governor said in a news release.

“While our COVID-19 trends are much better than they have been, the virus remains active statewide and that means there is still risk involved when people gather together,” added Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer. Kanter said the booster offers stronger protection.

Unfortunately, not enough people who are fully vaccinated have added the additional protection by getting boosters. About 17% of them have, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Louisiana, the number of adults with boosters was about 15.3% not long ago.

We still have too many unvaccinated people. Nationally, about 58% of the population is vaccinated. That percentage is about 48% in Louisiana. That means the first step to a healthier state and additional prevention is for more people to get vaccinated.

It's free of charge and demonstrated safe. It is vital to protect children, as well. Under state law, our students must be immunized against some vaccine-preventable diseases if they attend public and private K-12 schools, day cares, universities and colleges. If a recently proposed Louisiana Department of Health's takes effect, COVID-19 vaccinations will be added to that list, requiring students to get vaccinated against the virus or submit an exemption.

We are thankful that more Louisianans are helping our overall health by following health guidance to avoid, reduce and prevent COVID-19 illnesses. Any number of cases is too many. Any number of hospitalizations is too many. Any number of deaths attributed directly or indirectly to the virus is too many.

The science is clear on boosters. During the recent surge of the delta variant, a Pfizer study showed that boosters were effective with 95.6% of 10,000 cases. That’s a good number.

There was some confusing messaging about the available boosters at some points. Making all vaccinated adults eligible to get boosters makes things much more clear.

But initial vaccinations are vitally important in Louisiana.

Kanter has been a voice of direct common sense through this experience in Louisiana: "If we do, God forbid, have another surge, it's not going to be because not enough people got boosted," he said. "It's going to be because not enough people got vaccinated in the first place."

We continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. We ask that all who are fully vaccinated get a booster.

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