BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Fewer than two weeks after officials hailed the opening of a federal mass vaccination site in Louisiana’s capital city, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that the location isn’t seeing enough traffic from people seeking the thousands of coronavirus vaccine doses available.
“Demand at that site is not what we need it to be, not what we hoped it would be,” the Democratic governor said.
The acknowledgment of problems at the Baton Rouge vaccination site was the latest sign that Louisiana residents’ interest in the vaccine is subsiding, with only one-quarter of the state fully immunized from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.
“We are trying very hard to meet people where they are, and this is especially important when you get to a point where demand no longer exceeds supply. And that’s where we are,” Edwards said.
Louisiana actively lobbied for a federal vaccination site, complete with extra vaccine doses separate from the weekly allocations the state receives and sends to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and other community vaccination locations.
But the state continues to encounter reluctance — or outright lack of interest — from many people about rolling up their sleeves for a shot.
Louisiana didn’t seek shipment of some vaccine doses over the past week because of the waning demand.
“We did not draw down every dose that was immediately available to us. It’s going to stay available to us. It’s just going to remain in storage with the feds, and we’ll draw that down when we need to,” said Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public adviser.
To combat the hesitancy, Louisiana continues to increase its outreach work with community organizations, faith-based leaders and others to persuade people.
The state has set up a hotline to help people schedule appointments, held localized vaccine distribution to specialized communities and worked to find free transportation for anyone interested in a shot but without a car.
The health department is sending out more than 100,000 mailers on Monday to encourage people to get vaccinated, and robocalls from the state’s regional medical directors are going out to landline phones around the state.
Meanwhile, community organizations working with the state have started knocking on thousands of doors, handing out flyers, sending text messages and making phone calls to people in areas identified as having lower vaccination rates than other regions.
More than 1.4 million people in Louisiana — 32% of the state’s total population — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state health department data. More than 1.1 million people have been fully immunized, 25%. That’s far below the threshold that scientists say is needed to stop the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.
“We don’t get through this pandemic until a certain number of people and a certain percentage of folks get vaccinated,” Edwards said.
Kanter said the nation is seeing similar trends across states, and he encouraged anyone with ideas about how to improve Louisiana’s vaccination rates to reach out to the health department.
“I think there will be more and more creative events,” he said.