Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards expands COVID vaccine eligibility to all adults Monday
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults 16 and older beginning Monday.
Edwards' announcement at Wednesday's press conference coincides with a large increase in Louisiana's allocation next week of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
"This is welcome news and comes sooner than we had expected," Edwards said. "Weekly (vaccine dose) allocations have doubled and that's why we're confident in taking this next step."
Louisiana Department of Health Dr. Joseph Kanter, Edwards' chief public health adviser, called the expansion "a great milestone we're approaching."
But Edwards and Kanter said they are concerned about the number of people still hesitant to take the vaccines.
"All three vaccines are safe and effective," Edwards said. "We want more people to be vaccinated. We're going to everything we can to facilitate that."
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More than 1 million Louisianans have received at least one dose of the vaccine with 611,494 people who have completed their vaccine series. Louisiana's population is about 4.6 million people.
Those who are ages 16 and 17 are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
Louisiana crossed a grim milestone this week with more than 10,000 COVID deaths, but hospitalizations are at their lowest point in more than a year and statewide positivity stands at 2.8%, far better than the nearly 15% positivity in January.
But Edwards and Kanter said Louisianans must remain on their guard as variants of the virus like the B.1.1.7 first identified in the United Kingdom emerge and accelerate.
"We do remain in race against time and variants," Edwards said. "We need people to continue to do what they can by wearing masks and socially distancing, but also getting vaccine."
The state expects to get 148,000 doses next week as the expansion of eligibility begins — 78,000 from Pfizer, 44,000 from Moderna and 26,600 from the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Louisiana remains in Phase 3 of reopening with a mask mandate in place. Edwards' current order expires next week.
Neighboring governors in Texas and Mississippi have dropped their mask mandates.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.