Pharmacies overwhelmed as Louisiana’s elderly residents rush to get vaccine

Published 5:49 am Monday, January 4, 2021

With the announcement that Louisiana soon will allow people aged 70 and older to get the coronavirus vaccine, residents clamoring for the immunizations have hurried to pharmacies trying to receive a shot, even though those vaccinations don’t begin until Monday and will require a scheduled appointment.

The Louisiana Department of Health said Friday it has received multiple reports of people who meet the new, expanded criteria showing up at pharmacies, overwhelming pharmacies’ phone lines and even calling some hospitals trying to get vaccinated days before doses are available.

Health department spokeswoman Aly Neel stressed that only a limited supply of 10,000 Moderna vaccine doses will be available next week for those newly eligible, only certain pharmacies will be administering those doses and appointments are required to receive the shot or the person will be turned away.

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“Let me stress — you must make an appointment in advance to get vaccinated. You will not get the vaccine if you just show up. It is critical that these pharmacies are able to plan so as to not waste precious vaccine doses, and of course we do not want lines forming during a pandemic,” Neel said in a statement Friday.

Still, news of wider availability was drawing intense interest, which Neel described as a promising sign even as the health department tried to tamp down expectations for those newly eligible.

For the first three weeks that Louisiana has received vaccine doses, the state prioritized hospital employees, EMS workers, firefighters and people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

With thousands of first doses of the two-dose vaccines administered to those groups, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday that he is expanding the list to include anyone 70 and older, people with kidney failure and additional health care workers.

About 100 pharmacies in 52 parishes will administer the Moderna vaccines to those newly eligible groups, with each pharmacy getting around 100 doses in the first week. The Department of Health will announce the pharmacies Monday at, so people can begin trying to make appointments then.

Edwards’ office said 640,000 people will be newly eligible for the shot next week — hundreds of thousands more people than vaccine doses that will be immediately available for them. The governor has urged patience.