A shortage of vaccine supply has prompted Ochsner Health System to delay thousands of COVID-19 vaccination appointments, with system representatives estimating the number of new vaccine deliveries has dipped by 70 percent.
Last week, Ochsner representatives said all appointments to receive initial COVID vaccination doses were cancelled, with new appointments to be made as quantity allows each week. The move was made out of necessity as the health system indicated it had seen a 70 percent decline in its vaccine supply from several weeks ago.
The Ochsner network includes St. Charles Parish Hospital in Luling.
“Last week, we received 3,900 doses for southern Louisiana, 975 for Lafayette and 975 for Shreveport,” said Warner Thomas, Ochsner Health President and CEO, in a Jan. 25 media call. “This week, we received 1,950 for southern Louisiana, zero for Lafayette and 975 for Shreveport. If you’d ask me how the number is determined, I don’t know. You would have to ask the state.”
Thomas added, though, the state government’s hands are tied to a large extent.
“The state is going through the allocation process … there’s a tremendous demand for the vaccine. (Louisiana) isn’t getting enough supply from the federal government, so I think it’s hard for the state to meet demands. Certainly any doses we get, we administer immediately,” Thomas said.
Ochsner said it is rescheduling as many appointments as the number of vaccines confirmed to be en route each week, and added the new schedule is being made based on the initial order of scheduled appointments.
Representatives clarified that only first dose appointments were cancelled. All appointments to receive a second vaccination will go on as originally scheduled.
Robert Hart, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of Ochsner, said some appointments were cancelled the first week fewer vaccines arrived than anticipated, but hopes were it would prove an outlier.
“We were hoping supply would catch up to demand. But the same thing happened the following week … we realized this was not going to work … when we realized supply was an issue, we said, ‘OK, no more, cancel the ones we have and schedule it out when we learn how many doses we get each Friday.’”
Ochsner said no timeline has been given by the state as to when supply may improve. As of Jan. 25, there were more than 21,000 people who had appointments cancelled. Those patients were placed on a waiting list.
In regards to vaccinations that have taken place, Warner said the health system has seen an extremely low percentage of no-shows, and in the few instances where it has happened, a waiting list patient is called and offered the chance to come in for a same-day vaccination. As such, vaccines have not been wasted.
“People have been very responsive,” Warner said.
Ochsner has seen nearly half of its workforce vaccinated, 49.1 percent.
Warner was asked what the health system’s capacity was to distribute vaccines.
“More than they can give us,” Warner said. “Much more. We’ve done 22,000 in a weekend by running all sites and locations, extending hours … we could do upwards, probably, of 30,000 to 40,000. We’re not concerned with that yet … it would be a great problem to have.”