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Quadesha Stewart, who teaches at Ponchatoula Junior High School, got vaccinated for her students. “It means going back to some sense of normalcy,” Stewart explains.

Our COVID-19 pandemic clock is ticking. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who isn’t ready for this traumatic global nightmare to be over. We’ve lost thousands of jobs in Louisiana. We’ve lost more than 10,000 souls. Though there are fewer people being hospitalized with coronavirus, there are still too many getting infected with the virus.

We can end this, at least in part, by doing the basics, including wearing masks when we go out.

But the bigger need is more people offering more arms for more vaccine.

Gov. John Bel Edwards opened vaccine eligibility Wednesday to nearly everyone. If you're breathing and 16 years old or older, you're eligible to get a vaccination. That's a significant expansion, but there is a rub.

“The fact that we have opened up is an indicator that they’re seeing weakness in uptake,” Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, said prior to the big announcement.

That’s not good. Though fewer than 2,000 of more than 2.3 million doses have gone to waste, we need to use every dose we receive. In some instances, vaccines are going to waste when vaccine appointments aren’t being kept and they expire. Another concern: Some people are simply not interested in getting a vaccine, at least not yet.

With about 14% of our people vaccinated, Louisiana is in the middle of the national pack. Some parts of the state are doing better than others. Region 1, which includes New Orleans, is leading with 15.77% of the population fully vaccinated. Region 5, including parts of southwest Louisiana still recovering from Hurricane Laura, is at the bottom, with 8.81% vaccinated. We're going in the right direction, but Edwards and state health officials want to see us reach herd immunity as soon as possible.

The state is feverishly working to distribute more vaccine doses to people in more communities as quickly, and as safely, as possible. Just recently, the Department of Health announced a statewide push to ramp up vaccine distribution with a grassroots approach. NOLA Ready in New Orleans is one of the partners. City officials have also partnered with Resilience Force, a nonprofit canvassing in more than a dozen New Orleans neighborhoods to share information with residents about the vaccines and availabilities.

In Baton Rouge, city officials are doing what they can to get more people vaccinated. That includes providing at-home shots for seniors with the Meals on Wheels program, working with vaccine activist nurse Carla Brown as she does door-to-door outreach and coordinating pop-up clinics in underserved neighborhoods, especially in North Baton Rouge.

Education is critical. If anyone needs clarity about the value of vaccines, these and other approaches must be administered so we can get closer to slowing, then beating, this pandemic. In the end, it’s going to take family, friends and loved ones to convince each other that losing more Louisianans is an option we don’t want.