Alarmed Louisiana Residents Turn to Vaccines in ‘Darkest Days’ of Pandemic

Alarmed Louisiana Residents Turn to Vaccines in ‘Darkest Days’ of Pandemic
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Alarmed Louisiana Residents Turn to Vaccines in ‘Darkest Days’ of Pandemic

Alarmed Louisiana Residents Turn to Vaccines in ‘Darkest Days’ of Pandemic

HAMMOND, Louisiana – Officials in Louisiana have been willing to try just about anything to shake up the state’s lagging vaccination rates against Covid-19, from a million dollar cash donation dollars to a public service announcement featuring the recent 14-year-old National Spelling Champion. .

But when Madeline LeBlanc gave in and received her first dose of the vaccine this week, she was motivated by something completely different: fear.

After seeing reports of the Delta variant raging statewide, Ms. LeBlanc, 24, had come to realize that without a vaccine, she was risking not only her own life, but the lives of others around her. “I don’t want to be the one to harm someone else’s health,” said Ms. LeBlanc, who lives in Baton Rouge.

The new push for vaccinations has been prompted by an explosion in coronavirus cases. But it takes time for vaccines to boost the immune system, and the state – which now runs the country in new cases – could still be weeks away from relief.

Hospitals are overflowing with more Covid-19 patients than ever. Even children’s hospitals have filled intensive care units. And the Delta variant has alarmed doctors, who described seeing patients in their 20s and 30s decline and die quickly.

“These are the darkest days of our pandemic,” said Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

The Delta variant has sparked a wave of diagnoses across the United States, but Louisiana has become an embarrassing hotspot, with the nation’s highest per capita case rate and a beleaguered healthcare system struggling to keep up. .

“It is a miserable place, I know it,” said Governor John Bel Edwards, describing the flurry of frustration and shame expressed by government officials, epidemiologists and frontline medical workers as their condition suffers. catastrophic consequences of failure to vaccinate further. people.

The state averages more than 4,300 new cases per day, according to data from the New York Times. Resources have been taxed – particularly in the southeast corner of the state – as cases have increased from the Gulf Coast to the state’s north.

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In Baton Rouge, a hospital called in the type of federal emergency support personnel usually reserved for the aftermath of a hurricane. In Hammond, a town of some 21,000 people at the boot end of Louisiana, nurses have been ordered to take extra shifts.

Immunization rates are increasing in many states as employers and universities have started requiring vaccines to return to work and the classroom. In the southeast, where vaccinations have lagged behind the national rate, those increases have come in states like Mississippi and Florida just as reported cases have started to rise.

In an effort to help temper the spread of the virus in Louisiana while pushing for more vaccinations, Governor Edwards reinstated a statewide mask mandate that went into effect on Wednesday, requiring anyone to 5 years or more to cover the face inside.

But the governor’s orders met with fierce resistance from the start of the pandemic. Exasperation bled in his voice on Monday as he urged residents to heed the mask order and listen to the parade of doctors and hospital officials he called to describe the growing crisis.

” You do not care ? Mr. Edwards asked. “I hope you will. I do. I have heard it said many times: Louisiana is the most pro-life state in the country. I want to believe it.

Public health experts are frustrated to find Louisiana in such a crisis, especially given its recent history. The state had a horrific introduction to the coronavirus, as the Mardi Gras festivities in 2020 proved to be an ideal incubator for the spread of Covid-19, plunging New Orleans into a first season of death and despair.

Now, largely because of the new wave of disease, lines have returned to vaccination sites across the state. Thirty-seven percent of the population is now fully vaccinated, climbing about three percentage points from June but still behind the national rate, with just under half of the country fully vaccinated.

“The public is finally hearing how bad it has gotten,” said Dr. Robert C. Peltier, chief medical officer of the North Oaks Health System in Hammond, an hour east of Baton Rouge.

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For many young people, fear of vaccines has been overtaken by fear of the virus itself, after hearing stories of people their age succumbing to Covid-19.

“It’s really scary that you end up in the hospital,” said a 22-year-old woman who only gave her first name, Brianna, as she waited for her vaccine on Tuesday at a managed vaccination site. by Louisiana. National Guard in Baton Rouge.

Ashlynn Robert had avoided getting the shot for fear of needles, but her mother began to squeeze her as hospital admissions increased. “It wasn’t that bad,” Ms. Robert, 24, said after her shot. “I was dramatic.”

Among the hardest-hit places in the state is Tangipahoa Parish, a cluster of small, mostly working-class towns where life had defiantly moved forward even as the virus spread.

In Hammond, the largest city in Tangipahoa Parish, North Oaks Medical Center came under fire with Covid-19: 93 patients on a recent day, aged 20 to 85. Before this wave, the highest number of patients had been 65 in December.

Patti Hilbun, 65, had been there for almost two weeks. “I will be blatantly honest,” she said. “It’s as real as smallpox and polio when I was a kid.”

Ms. Hilbun was reluctant to get the vaccine. She once had a bad reaction to a flu shot, she said, and she suffers from Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease. Her husband kept pushing her for the vaccine. “I just convinced myself,” she said. But before she had a chance to get the shot, she went to a wedding and didn’t wear a mask.

Soon she felt tired. His breathing became more labored. The situation worsened until July 21, when she came to North Oaks, the main hospital in the parish. “I must have wanted to live,” she said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Hilbun finally had good news: she was able to leave the hospital.

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“She’s definitely one of the lucky ones,” said Stacy Newman, her doctor. On the same day, she said, a 31-year-old man died of the illness. He had two children and his wife was also sick with Covid-19.

To Dr. Newman and his colleagues, the North Oaks Hospital and the community it serves have sometimes seemed to exist on different planets.

Inside, the severity of the pandemic is inevitable, leading them to take as many precautions as possible. Outside, people have largely stopped wearing masks. The virus has been viewed by some as a hoax.

Some thinking doctors and nurses found it baffling: Vaccines were considered dangerous, but a food store had to display a sign telling people that ivermectin, a heartworm medicine for pets and livestock , could not be used to treat Covid-19.

Friendships have been tested. A nurse told her husband to get the vaccine or to move out.

“I feel less safe in the community than in the hospital,” said Dr Justin Fowlkes, pulmonologist and intensive care physician.

The hospital has space for more patients, but not enough staff. More than 60 employees were released with Covid-19 this week. About 40 others were absent for other illnesses. There were also 400 vacant positions.

Brooke Moran, a nurse from North Oaks, worked long hours before returning home in the evening to her husband and daughter. She said she was relieved that many of her extended family had been vaccinated. They listened to her. They trusted him. She just wished others had received the message before the virus escalated at this point.

For 15 months, she has been surrounded by suffering. This time it was different, she said. It was worse and unnecessary.

“I am always dedicated,” Ms. Moran said, her voice broken, tears streaming behind her glasses. “I still have compassion. I care about these people. But it’s just frustrating. It’s preventable and I don’t want these people to die. But they still do. It’s really out of our hands.

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