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Mass COVID-19 vaccination gets a dry run in a Louisiana parking lot

By Angelica LaVito, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — A COVID-19 vaccine may be months from reaching millions of Americans. Getting all those shots into arms will be a monumental task. Shreveport, Louisiana, is getting ready now.

The city recently completed a test run, one of about a dozen across the state. Health officials there organized the community's first-ever drive-thu flu shot clinic in the massive parking lot of the Louisiana state fairgrounds.

Drivers rolled down their windows and rolled up their sleeves as they pulled up to tents for the largest vaccination event the regional health department has ever hosted. Cheerful and fast-working nurses jabbed them with vaccines. Within about five minutes, people were on their way, exiting the parking lot while passing a row of food stands selling corn dogs, roasted nuts and lemonade.

In the near future, that's just the way officials hope it will go for a COVID-19 vaccine. A poor state that's seen its share of hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, Louisiana is trying to get out front of the challenge. The state's health department decided early on to run test clinics in each of its nine public-health regions, using this winter's flu shot as practice to eventually distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses.

"Unlike with testing, we have the luxury to have four to five months to plan," said Frank Welch, a doctor who is Louisiana's immunization director.

Still, the pressure is on. The worst pandemic to ravage the country in a century is raging out of control and hospitals are filling up across the country as winter approaches. Fortunately, formulas from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE as well as Moderna Inc. have displayed stunning efficacy in early test results, with initial shipments perhaps just weeks away.

 

But even in the best case scenario of a timely vaccine approval, state governments will struggle to get the rampaging virus under control. And they must do so amid a chaotic transfer of presidential power and a lack of clear policy guidance. Making matters more challenging is the lack of confidence many Americans have in the safety of a vaccine. Only about half of adults say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if one were available, according to a September survey from the Pew Research Center.

Louisiana has an ambitious plan to vaccinate its nearly 5 million residents. The first doses will be limited, most likely, to a few health-care workers. Louisiana has a high number of infections and deaths as a percentage of its population. About 212,000 people have fallen ill with the novel coronavirus and more than 6,200 have died.

Shreveport leans Democratic, with surrounding Caddo Parish having voted for Joe Biden in the presidential election. Mayor Adrian Perkins calls it the most conservative Democratic parish in the entire state. Mask wearing and social distancing have been a hard sell. Now, like places everywhere in the U.S., the novel coronavirus has upended lives and routines.

The state fairgrounds are just off Interstate 49, which runs along the west side of the city, a predominantly Black area. Nationally, Black Americans have suffered disproportionately. Cases of the novel coronavirus are 2.6 times higher among Black Americans compared with Whites, and deaths are 2.1 times higher, according to the CDC.

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