The mass vaccination site at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center will begin administering shots on Wednesday, adding another avenue for area residents to receive coronavirus vaccines as officials prepare for increased supplies.
About 700 people will receive the shots at the facility on Wednesday, according to officials from LCMC Health, which will operate the federally funded facility along with the New Orleans Health Department and the state.
Hundreds more doses will be offered at the site on Thursday and Friday, when LCMC is expected, like other health care providers throughout Louisiana, to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“We will start tomorrow and move into Thursday and the weekend,” Dr. Jeffrey Elder of University Medical Center, LCMC Health’s director of emergency preparedness operations, told a New Orleans City Council committee on Tuesday. “We expect that we will be able to vaccinate next week as well.”
The vaccines will be offered to eligible residents who have requested them through LCMC or the city’s health department. Appointments are required in order to avoid creating long, first-come, first-serve lines that have plagued similar mass drive-up sites elsewhere in the country.
On Wednesday, vaccinations will be given to people who have already been selected off of waiting lists. People looking to sign up for later dates can make appointments starting at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
The opening comes a week after LCMC officials first announced they would use the Convention Center building to inoculate large numbers of residents. The plan, they said, was to start with hundreds of daily doses and then ramp up to thousands as more supplies arrive.
Since the U.S. vaccine rollout began in December, most of the people eligible to receive the shots in Louisiana have gotten them through a constellation of pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.
But in recent weeks, hospitals operators and local officials have been accelerating plans for larger facilities that will eventually serve thousands of people per day.
Ochsner Health said it would host a drive-thru vaccination event at the Shrine on Airline Thursday, where it plans administer 2,000 shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Half of the doses will go to patients who received their first dose at a drive-thru event a month ago, while the remainder will go to eligible residents who can get an appointment through Ochsner.
Jefferson Parish said it would also host a drive-thru event Thursday at the Alario Center, which is also by appointment.
More than 657,000 Louisiana residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, while nearly 370,000 have received both doses, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health.
Since December, LCMC has distributed over 60,000 vaccines under the Pfizer or the Moderna brands, Elder said, shots that require cold storage or shipment and that must be taken in two doses several weeks apart.
But it is set, like other hospitals around the state, to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. That vaccine requires normal refrigeration temperatures and can be taken in single dose.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 72% effective in preventing moderate to severe coronavirus cases in U.S. clinical trials, but 100% effective in preventing death. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, meanwhile, are over 94% effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19.
Residents will be offered whichever vaccine LCMC has available, health leaders have said. Elder praised the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Tuesday as an efficient way to keep people from dying of the virus and eventually reaching herd immunity.
“It keeps them out of the hospitals, and it keeps them from dying,” he said. “We cannot underestimate how important it is to get people into the clinics to get them vaccinated.”
For its launch at the Convention Center this week, LCMC is using a waiting list of eligible recipients compiled by the city health department and by its own hospitals. Only people 65 or over, people with certain health conditions, K-12 or daycare teachers, pregnant people and select other groups are eligible for the vaccines.
The hospital operator is also working with the Regional Transit Authority to identify sites where people can be picked up and bused directly to the Convention Center to receive their shots.
There will likely be two pickup sites, one in New Orleans East and one in Algiers, LCMC Health Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Ayame Dinkler said.
Residents who are able to drive to the center to be vaccinated can park their cars in Parking Lot F, across from Hall J, she said.
With a mass vaccination site coming online, a spokesperson for City Hall said Tuesday the city is closing its own COVID-19 testing sites and pivoting its focus to vaccine administration.
The test sites that are run by the Louisiana National Guard and by CORE will continue to serve residents, spokesperson Beau Tidwell said.
The city is also hunting for volunteers who can help it maintain its citywide vaccination list, help out at the city’s 311 call center and work at city-run vaccine sites. Roughly 2,000 people have signed up so far, but the city is hoping to at least double that number.
Workers who sign up to help are considered emergency response personnel under state guidelines, though there is no guarantee that enough vaccines will be available to everyone who does sign up, New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness public engagement manager Laura Mellem said.
Appointment details and contact information:
To make an appointment with LCMC Health, eligible residents can call 504-290-5200 or go online at lcmchealth.org/vaccine.
To make an appointment with Jefferson Parish, eligible residents can call 504-518-4020 or go online at covidvaccinations.jeffparish.net.
To make an appointment with Ochsner Health, eligible residents can call (844) 888-2772 or use the MyOchsner patient portal online.
A full schedule of all public test sites in New Orleans can be found at https://ready.nola.gov/incident/coronavirus/calenda
Staff writers Jeff Adelson and Faimon A. Roberts III contributed to this story.