Louisiana expands vaccine access but doses scarce  

Louisiana has unveiled the list of 107 pharmacies that will begin offering the coronavirus vaccine this week to people age 70 and older. With demand certain to outstrip limited supplies and interest running so high, the state website crashed within minutes of the information’s release Monday.

The Louisiana Department of Health quickly reworked the website to get the list back online.

Hoping to avoid long lines seen in other states with people awaiting vaccination, the agency stressed that appointments for the immunizations are required. Still, people started showing up at their local pharmacies and inundating them with phone calls days ahead of the expanded eligibility, seeking vaccines for themselves or elderly family.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration called for patience.

“Patients who arrive without an appointment will not be vaccinated. Do not arrive at a location without an appointment,” the health department said as it announced the list.

An estimated 640,000 people in Louisiana are newly eligible for the shot this week, but only about 10,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were initially shipped to the state’s pharmacies for this cohort, leaving each pharmacy with no more than about 100 doses available to their customers.

“My phone has been ringing off the wall this morning,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, the Republican chairman of the Senate health care committee and a pharmacy owner in St. Martin Parish. “I think there is going to be a huge demand of the 70 and older population. This population is concerned for their health, and they want the vaccination. I think for right now, the supply is not at all adequate to meet the demand.”

Mills’ drugstore has applied to participate in the coronavirus vaccination program, but hasn’t yet been included. For now, his store is putting together a list of people interested in vaccination to schedule appointments when his pharmacy is added to the program.

The health department list released Monday includes 45 chain pharmacies and 62 independent pharmacies across 51 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes.

For the first three weeks that Louisiana received vaccine doses from the federal government, 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, Edwards announced Thursday he was expanding the list to include anyone 70 and older, people with kidney failure and additional health care workers.

Even though this week’s appointments were expected to quickly fill up, Mills encouraged people to reach out to pharmacies: “Call your local drugstore. If they do vaccinations, get on their list. And when they get the vaccine, they’ll take care of you. And if they don’t do vaccines, your local pharmacist can point you to a pharmacy that does.”