BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards was joined by a member of the White House’s Coroanvirus Task Force at a news conference Wednesday, Dec. 2 to discuss Louisiana’s distribution plan for two COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a native of the West Bank area of Jefferson Parish, outlined an extensive and detailed distribution plan at the news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Giroir says the FDA is scheduled to hold an emergency approval hearing on the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer, which requires storage at sub-zero temperatures, next week. It is unclear how long the FDA will take to approve the vaccine. Giroir explained it could take less than 24 hours or much longer for approval. The federal agency will hold an emergency approval hearing on the vaccine manufactured by Moderna the following week.
Both vaccines appear to more than 90% effective and Moderna says its vaccine is 100% effective in preventing severe symptoms of COVID-19, according to Giroir.
The admiral says 6.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed at first once it is approved by the FDA. The first batches of the vaccine will be distributed across the U.S. to priority areas determined by the federal government. Giroir estimates the vaccine would first be distributed in late December or early January 2021.
He says the federal government has been “microplanning” the distribution of the vaccines down to the individual hospitals and nursing homes and “knows the location of every freezer [capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine] in the U.S.”
Gov. Edwards says that when the Pfizer vaccine is available, Louisiana will receive approximately 40,000 doses per week, for the first two weeks. A majority of the first doses will go to hospitals, which have to proper freezers to store the vaccine, the governor says. Giror says Louisiana’s nursing homes will likely receive the first douses of the Moderna vaccine. The admiral said the COVID-19 vaccine will likely be available to the general public in May or June.
While Giroir was optimistic about the speed of the distribution of the vaccine, he warned Louisiana residents it’s extremely important for them to practice measures to mitigate the virus for the foreseeable future.
“You don’t have to shut down the economy or have Draconian measures but you do have to wear a mask,” Giroir said.
Gov. Edwards added that it is best that the state achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 by large amounts of people being vaccinated instead of large amounts of people contracting the virus.
The governor’s address came almost a week after Thanksgiving, a holiday he and health experts warned could become a super spreader event for the U.S. if people did not practice COVID-19 mitigation measures. In his last address, two days before Thanksgiving, Gov. Edwards warned if a massive spread of the virus did occur over the holiday the state would not feel the impacts of the spread for up to two weeks.
Gov. Edwards also announced that day Louisiana would move from Phase 3 to a more restrictive “modified” Phase 2 of the White House’s Opening Up America Again guidelines.
The “modified” version of Phase 2 went into effect Nov. 25, the day after the governor’s last statewide address, and expires on Dec. 23. Under the governor’s new guidelines, tele-work is highly encouraged for both private and public employees when possible, closes many bars in the state to outdoor-only sales, capacity for most businesses including restaurants is reduced to 50%, and seating capacity at all sporting events is reduced to 25%.
The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) reported 3,604 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including a backlog of 1,551 cases with collection dates going back to April. State health officials also reported 46 new deaths, an increase of eight patients hospitalized due to the virus bringing the total to 1,288 patients statewide, and an increase of six patients on mechanical ventilators with a total of 134 patients statewide.
On Tuesday, LDH reported 5,326 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths. Due to a processing error, some of the cases reported Tuesday would have been reported on Sunday, Nov. 29 and Monday, Nov. 30.
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