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As vaccinations expand, hospitals look for ways to administer more shots to meet demand

Andrew Capps
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Dr. Leo Seoane, chief academic officer for Ochsner Health System, becomes among the first Louisianans to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as Louisiana's frontline healthcare workers begin to receive the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the state on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Louisiana’s expansion of COVID-19 vaccine availability to people older than 70 this week is pushing the state’s hospitals to look for ways to expand the number of shots they can administer each day.

Prior to Monday, COVID-19 vaccines in the state were limited to frontline health care workers and people who live or work in assisted-living facilities as the state doled out its first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that were granted emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration in December.

This week, 107 pharmacies across 51 parishes in the state started distributing a limited supply of about 10,000 total doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to people who meet the state’s Phase 1B, Tier One criteria.

Phase 1B, Tier One encompasses some 640,000 people, according to the Louisiana Department of Health, and includes: people ages 70 or older, ambulatory and outpatient medical personnel, dialysis patients, home agency patients and personnel, and the students, staff and residents of schools of allied health.

Pharmacies receiving the first publicly available doses of the vaccine this week were inundated with requests to book appointments to be vaccinated, with hundreds of people put on waitlists for future vaccine shipments. 

More:Hundreds on waitlist as Louisiana pharmacies get COVID-19 vaccine

The vaccine expansion was also extended for hospitals, which are now allowed to give vaccines to people who meet Phase 1B, Tier One criteria.

Ochsner Health System’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Hart said Wednesday the expansion has pushed skyrocketing demand for the shots onto the hospital system. Hart said Ochsner can administer about 2,000 shots a day across the state, but given the demand for the vaccines the healthcare system is looking for ways to greatly expand that capacity.

“We certainly have more capacity to ramp up the delivery, especially now that we've seen what the demand is when we open it up to this over-70 crew,” Hart said. “We're looking at other possibilities, other venues. Other ways that can ramp up the delivery. Can we get up to, you know, 10,000 a day? Twelve thousand a day? Even higher? Can we bump it up to 25,000, perhaps?”

Ochsner Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Hart speaks during a video press conference as Louisiana's frontline healthcare workers begin to receive the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the state on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Ochsner’s CEO Warner Thomas said that as of Wednesday the hospital system has vaccinated about 16,000 of its 33,000 employees and 1,000 people who qualified for the vaccine this week. Hart did say that the system’s employees have shown some hesitancy about the vaccines, but that as the first round of employees started to get their second doses of the vaccines that attitude has changed.

More:Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards pledges to improve pace of COVID-19 vaccinations

“There was a group of our employees who were kind of taking this ‘Let me wait and see how that first run goes,’” Hart said. “And now that people are getting their second shot, there is kind of this collective sigh of “Ok, well now we can we can go ahead and do it.’”

The health system’s leadership said it expects to continue to be able to offer vaccines to people outside its healthcare staff, but with the majority of vaccines that have been delivered to Louisiana so far not administered based on data from LDH and the Centers for Disease Control, manpower remains the limiting factor for expanding access to the vaccines to the growing list of people who qualify to receive them.

“We want to make sure that we can get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, but again, staffing,” Hart said. “We have to staff the hospitals and staff these vaccination clinics, so we're trying to manage both of those.”

“We have 140 health centers across the state,” Warner added in response to Hart’s statement. “We're looking to redeploy people out of clinics into the vaccination process to help us, you know process and get vaccinations so we are looking at those capabilities right now to redeploy people to scale up and grow our ability to vaccinate.”

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