BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - With states receiving steady supplies of coronavirus vaccine, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday further expanded eligibility to a long list of healthy essential workers in Louisiana who don’t have one of the two dozen medical conditions that already provided access to the shots.
As the Democratic governor announced the widened eligibility, the state also kicked off an outreach campaign aimed at getting vaccines to people in underserved areas and persuading those who are skeptical. The state is seeing available, unused appointments for its vaccine doses.
“If the people in Louisiana really are interested in getting back to normal as soon as possible, they will avail themselves of the opportunity to get vaccinated,” Edwards said.
The new immunization eligibility rules, which take effect Monday, will include workers at grocery stores, bars, restaurants and colleges. The governor said that’s expected to be the last expansion of access before he throws open vaccinations to all adults around the state. Already, most of the adult population is expected to meet one of the eligibility criteria on the books.
Edwards widened access earlier this month to anyone 16 and older who has among two dozen high-risk medical conditions, people who are overweight and smokers. Schoolteachers, day care workers, health care employees, first responders, nursing home residents and many others already qualified for immunizations.
Starting Monday, that list will grow to people who work at agricultural sites, restaurants, bars, colleges, post offices, manufacturing facilities, grocery stores, utility companies, construction sites, banks and veterinarian offices. Judges and their staff, public transit workers, river pilots, clergy, communications workers, people in the news media and security staff all will be eligible.
More than 21% of the state’s total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state health department data. Nearly 569,000 people have been fully immunized. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one.
Louisiana continues to lag behind many other states in vaccine distribution. It ranked 40th as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A new “Bring Back Louisiana” campaign from Louisiana’s health department aims to bolster access and increase those numbers.
“Two or three or four weeks down the road, supply of vaccine, thankfully, is not going to be a limiting factor. The limiting factor is going to be how well we’ve reached the people of Louisiana, how easy we’ve made it for people to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser.
Organizations will knock on doors and make phone calls providing information about the shots, urging people to get vaccinated and helping them to sign up for appointments. They’ll look for barriers to vaccine access, such as transportation, and try to remove them. And they’ll try to build confidence in the vaccines. New community vaccination events will be rolled out in April targeting areas where fewer people have gotten the shots.
The grassroots campaign is modeled after get-out-the-vote efforts.
Edwards said the state needs to give people more opportunities to have their vaccination concerns answered - and he hopes the campaign will help do that. For example, he said the state is working with nursing homes to try to bolster vaccination among workers. While 82% of nursing home residents have received shots, only about 36% of staff at the facilities have agreed to be vaccinated.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to 100% on vaccinations, but we’ve got to get better than we are,” the governor said.
Among 20 organizations that will partner with the state on the outreach efforts are AARP, the AFL-CIO, the Hispanic Health Equity Task Force, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, the LSU Ag Center and NAACP. Several health care organizations representing hospitals, pharmacies and clinics also are among those participating.
“Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is a critical component for Louisiana as we work to reopen our businesses and rebuild our economy,” Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said in a statement.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak. Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.
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