BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With coronavirus vaccine supplies growing and immunization appointments going unused, Louisiana will end its limits Monday on which adults can receive the shots, giving access to anyone 16 and older who wants to schedule an appointment.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the eligibility change Wednesday, joining a growing list of states throwing open vaccine access to any adult who is interested in a shot. President Joe Biden’s administration wants all states to make every adult eligible for the vaccine by May 1.

“In the not-too-distant future, we’re going to have enough doses for everybody who wants one. What we need to do is make sure that everybody wants one,” Edwards said.

In addition to expanding vaccine access, Edwards said Louisiana also will significantly ramp up its large community vaccination events to try to reach more people and make it easier for them to obtain a shot, while also focusing more on outreach efforts to persuade the hesitant.

Louisiana already allowed most adults to have access to any of the three available coronavirus vaccines, if they meet one of two dozen medical conditions or were employed in one of the fields on a long list of “essential” jobs. The Democratic governor’s announcement simply removes the need for someone to claim one of those conditions or jobs.

Those who are 16 or 17 only have access to the Pfizer vaccine because it’s currently the lone vaccine available in the United States authorized for people that age.

The state already has been doing drive-thru and walk-in mass immunizations at convention centers, sports stadiums, fairgrounds, event centers and churches — in coordination with hospitals, clinics and pharmacies and using the Louisiana National Guard to help staff the sites.

But still, some vaccination sites have reported available appointments that are not filled.

Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser, described a particular concern about southwest Louisiana, where a more contagious version of the virus has been identified and is spreading — and where vaccination numbers are lower than in other regions.

He urged people to get vaccinated, but he also asked those who already have gotten immunized to “be an ambassador to your friends and family” to encourage them to seek the shots.

The health department last week launched a broad outreach campaign aimed at getting vaccines to people in underserved areas and persuading those who are skeptical. Officials said removing all eligibility restrictions for adults will remove questions and uncertainty about who can get a shot.

Edwards’ decision comes as the Biden administration announced it’s increasing the vaccine doses shipped to states each week, particularly as more of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot becomes available. The White House said 27 million doses of vaccines will be distributed across states next week, more than three times the number when Biden took office two months ago.

Nearly 1.1 million people in Louisiana — 23% of the state’s total population — has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state health department data. More than 611,000 people have been fully immunized. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one.

Louisiana continues to lag behind many other states in vaccine distribution. The state ranked 40th among states Wednesday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health department has launched a grassroots campaign modeled after get-out-the-vote efforts in elections, that will include organizations knocking on doors and making phone calls to encourage vaccination, provide information about the shots and help people sign up for appointments.

Kanter announced Wednesday nine zip code regions around Louisiana that will get the initial targeted outreach.


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