NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Demand for COVID-19 vaccinations is lower than vaccine supply around New Orleans and now major health care systems are allowing people to get vaccines without appointments at many vaccination sites. And the Louisiana Department of Health will send vaccines to individual primary care doctors to help reach more people.
In the state’s race to get more people vaccinated against the dangerous virus vaccine supply is no longer the issue.
Dr. Sandra Kemmerly is Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Ochsner Health.
“I think we’re in a different place clearly that we were, say, even a month ago where we had the demand far exceeded the supply,” said Dr. Kemmerly.
Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee is Region 1 Director in the Louisiana Department of Health. Region 1 includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes.
“Up until now historically we have been supply-limited and recently we are no longer supply-constrained,” said Magee.
And so large health care entities like Ochsner Health and LCMC Health find themselves with open appointments when not too long-ago appointments would fill up very fast.
Dr. Jeffrey Elder is an emergency medicine physician with LCMC Health who is the system’s point person on vaccination efforts.
“So, we have a lot more appointments available for people to be vaccinated and while traditionally we’ve seen as soon as we open up spots they fill up, now we’re starting to see that we do have openings and so that’s really shifted us to going from appointments only to now have walk-ins available too at our convention center site and we continue to vaccinate at our hospitals as well,” Elder stated.
Kemmerly says public interest is waning.
“The problem that we’re seeing now is that the demand has slacked off and people aren’t necessarily interested, so I think what’s happened is people who wanted to be vaccinated have gotten vaccinated and the people that are still hesitant are still waiting,” said Kemmerly.
“We’re definitely you know I think in the trenches now as it comes to really getting people out to be vaccinated,” said Elder.
Dr. Elder was asked if LCMC had to discard any vaccine because of a lack of people showing up for shots.
“No, we have not, so we have not had to throw away any vaccine. We try to stay really on top of that throughout the day at our sites.”
He said there have been some no-shows, but he believes that is due to people making vaccine appointments at various places and not canceling them once they have received the shot.
Dr. Magee says LDH is tweaking its vaccination model to provide the shots to more health care professionals, like primary care physicians.
“Allows us to be able to put the vaccine into the community and reach those individuals who prefer to get it from their primary care physician rather than at a mass vaccination site, at a pharmacy, or at a general hospital waiting room,” she said.
Magee does not agree that demand is necessarily down but says there is a need to reach other segments of the population and provide shots where more people will feel comfortable getting a vaccine.
Louisiana is a long way from reaching herd immunity in terms of the virus and mutations are causing coronavirus cases to surge in more than a dozen other states.
“We are nowhere near close to herd immunity, and I think you have to stay steadfast, vigilant. Anyone who’s not vaccinated, it allows for the virus to enter the body, replicate and mutate and that does weaken the efficacy of our current vaccines,” said Magee.
“For those who are vaccinated, fully protected, you know, we still don’t know 100 % how we will be affected if we are exposed to it and so some people could still become ill,” he said.
And because the virus has not disappeared and there are the variants Ochsner is holding a mass vaccination event at the Xavier University Convocation Center on Friday (April 9).
“We’re committed to trying to reduce as many barriers, such as close to transportation and arranging Uber for the vaccine event that we had at the Shrine,” said Kemmerly.
Ochsner said while it prefers appointments for the Xavier event, walk-ups will be permitted.
And Jefferson Parish government announced that a vaccination event scheduled for Thursday (April 8) will also allow walk-ups.
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