NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Thanks to a large FEMA grant, mass vaccinations could begin at the Morial Convention Center in a matter of weeks.
Health officials and the convention center are gearing up to innoculate hundreds of people a day.
It is one of the largest convention facilities in the country and it has done very little since the pandemic began.
“Without events going on at any building, for the most part, we are available,” said Morial Convention Center General Manager Michael Sawaya.
That could change in a matter of weeks. Not with a boost in convention business, but through the first federally funded mass coronavirus vaccination efforts in the state.
“The Johnson and Johnson approval could happen as early as Friday, with distribution occurring later next week,” said Allison Guste with LCMC Health.
But it may take even longer before that vaccine is available to patients, so LCMC is working on getting extra doses of the vaccines they are already using in their clinics so that they can get the downtown riverfront site up sooner.
LCMC and the convention Center got a $4.1 million FEMA grant to set up a walk-up vaccination site in the convention center hall nearest to the Crescent City Connection that could be up and running by mid-March.
“People will be able to park in the parking lot over there and we’re offering free parking to make it convenient,” said Sawaya.
For now, there are no plans to use the convention center as a drive-through vaccination site. Instead, people who want to be vaccinated are expected to walk up from the area around here or by using other means of transportation.
“We are going to be actively partnering to ensure access to the convention center with people like the RTA and rideshare programs,” said Guste.
LCMC Health now awaits word on the availability of vaccines, either through Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson and Johnson, which is considered to be 66% effective against the virus, as opposed to 95% for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“With a J and J vaccine, what you got is 66% percent effectiveness. It has enough of an immuno-response to get what you need for your immune system to move forward,” said health educator Eric Griggs, M.D.
Dr. Griggs says everyone should get whatever vaccine is available as soon as possible.
“We are in a race against mutations in variants,” said Griggs.
Griggs says using the convention center as a mass vaccination site will be a giant step forward in the right direction.
Convention center officials say they should be able to handle about 700 people a day once the vaccines are available. Details on sign-ups will come later.
“When the vaccine shows up, quickly, we just turn it on and flip the switch and start bringing people through,” Dr. Jeffrey Elder with LCMC said. “We had some discussions as well with FEMA and the feds about hopefully maybe some direct allocations for these mass vaccination-type sites and so we’re just kind of, you know, waiting to hear back on how we’ll be allocated.”
Part of that depends on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine gaining emergency use approval, which could happen by the end of the week.
Elder says there have been preliminary discussions of using the one-dose shot at the site.
“We also believe that both Pfizer and Moderna will be slowly increasing their output through March and into April,” Elder said.
Elder says they are prepared to use whatever vaccine they can get their hands on, much like Ochsner who is also ready to go with a two or three-day notice at the old Zephyr Field on Airline Highway.
”We believe we could do about 7,000 patients a day they’re running extended hours and run in some additional lanes, so we’re ready to go as soon as we get the green light from an inventory perspective,” Dawn Pevey with Ochsner said.
Ochsner tested it out earlier this month, vaccinating 1,200 people in its drive-thru.
Pevey says the goal is to eventually get 75,000 people vaccinated a week across their entire system.
”We are continuing to explore and have narrowed down another two or three locations in the Greater New Orleans area, as well as we are working with a Region-Nine medical director on a location and could be doing one on in Northshore as early as the first weekend in March,” Pevey said. “So, we are pretty far down the road of our plan with sites identified.”
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