BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards held a news conference Thursday, Dec. 10 on the state’s response to rising COVID-19 cases and its plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer, which a U.S. government advisory panel endorsed less than an hour after the governor’s address.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers. Gov. Edwards, who called the vaccine “one of the greatest scientific achievements of our time,” expects the state to receive the vaccine within 48 hours of it being approved by the FDA.
Once the vaccine is approved by the FDA, Louisiana will not receive it until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorizes the use of it.
He said 39,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine could be administered to hospital personnel across Louisiana as soon as Saturday, Dec. 12 or Sunday, Dec. 13. The next week the state will receive another shipment of about 40,000 doses, he said.
Between 125,000 and 135,000 frontline healthcare personnel will be the first people in the state to receive the vaccine, according to the governor. Doctors, nurses, as well as hospital food service workers and custodial staff, will be included in that group.
“While there’s certainly hope on the horizon as it relates to vaccines and vaccinations that will eventually allow us to put this pandemic in our rear view mirror, that’s not going to happen real soon,” said Edwards.
Gov. Edwards says he expects the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Moderna to be approved around Dec. 17. The Moderna vaccine will be distributed to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Louisiana.
The governor referred to the vaccine as a “light and the end of the tunnel” but warned that it would be months before the vaccine would be widely available to the general public. Gov. Edwards also said the state is experiencing a “tremendous surge” in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ventilator usage, and deaths.
The governor says the Louisiana Department of Health has been coming up with a plan since the Spring to distribute vaccines the moment the FDA gives the green light.
“We are confident that multiple COVID-19 vaccines are forthcoming, in the very near future, and ultimately that is how we are going to end this pandemic. But that’s not going to happen for a long time, for a number of months,” he said.
Edwards the state hopes to vaccinate 160,000 people in the first priority group comprised of people who work in hospitals and nursing homes, by the end of December. There are around 200,000 to 215,000 people who make up that first group.
“The vaccine will become more widely available after Priority 1A obviously, and then we will have different priorities established. Because I’m not going to say never, but initially we’re not going to have enough vaccines to get to the general population,” said Edwards.
The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) reported 1,529 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 Thursday. Gov. Edwards said a “significant increase” in hospitalizations would be reported Friday, Dec. 11. He also said the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations is currently on a trajectory that is not sustainable for the state’s healthcare system.
If Louisiana’s healthcare system is overwhelmed, it will hinder its capabilities to provide care to non-COVID-related patients, he said.
Gov. Edwards said the state has not yet seen the full effects of the virus’ spread over the Thanksgiving holiday and encouraged residents to consider safer alternatives for Christmas and New Years’.
Thursday’s news conference came one day after the state reported 4,339 new cases, the highest number of new cases without a backlog since the pandemic started. Wednesday, Dec. 9 also marked nine months since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Louisiana.
Thursday also marked the first time the governor spoke publicly since visiting the White House to discuss the state’s COVID-19 distribution plan on Tuesday, Dec. 8. Gov. Edwards said he was invited to nation’s capital to meet with the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force Tuesday because of the “strength of Louisiana’s COVID-19 vaccine plan.”
While we are still a little far away before most of us can get our hands on a vaccine, the governor urges everyone who wants to take a vaccine, to do so.
“This is a public health emergency because this disease is extremely contagious, and it is extremely deadly. And so we need to make these decisions collectively for the good of everybody in our family, in our community, in the state. And so I encourage anybody who’s tempted to not get this vaccine for any reason when it becomes available to them, to please consider that,” said Edwards.
The Department of Health is also not going to mandate that you take a vaccine, when one becomes widely available.
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