BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana on Thursday opened a coronavirus vaccine hotline to help people schedule immunization appointments and to connect those reluctant about getting the shot to medical professionals who can answer questions.
The hotline, reachable at 1-855-453-0774, is part of the Louisiana health department’s ongoing outreach work to bolster vaccination rates in a state where the administration of shots in arms exceeds many of its Southern neighbors, but lags much of the nation.
Hotline hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Anyone age 16 and older in Louisiana is eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.
The call center aims to assist those who have been unable to navigate online scheduling systems for vaccine doses, either because they don’t have internet access or aren’t tech savvy. But the health department also sees it as a way to provide science-based information about the vaccines to those who may be on the fence because of worries about safety.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state is shifting some workers it hired to do contact tracing — the tracking of coronavirus cases to help slow the spread of the outbreak — to instead staff the vaccine hotline instead. The contact tracing work has never produced as much robust information as state officials had hoped.
The hotline is another indicator of the difficulty Louisiana is facing to get larger percentages of its residents vaccinated. Public health officials say they are encountering significant numbers of people who are either hesitant about the vaccine or not interested.
More than 1.3 million people in Louisiana — 29% of the state’s total population — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state health department data. More than 892,000 people have been fully immunized, about 19%. That’s far below the threshold that scientists say is needed to stop the uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.
Louisiana ranked 43rd among states Thursday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To make access to the vaccine easier, Louisiana has been doing drive-thru and walk-in mass immunizations at convention centers, sports stadiums, fairgrounds, event centers, college campuses and churches — in addition to the vaccination sites available at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one.
Louisiana released numbers Thursday of how many people have contracted COVID-19 even though they’ve been vaccinated.
Dr. Joe Kanter, the governor’s chief public health adviser, said 170 people in Louisiana tested positive for the illness after completing their vaccinations. About half had symptoms and 11 were hospitalized, he said. They ranged in age from 23 to 98 and were spread across all three vaccines.