BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Trying to get more coronavirus vaccines in arms, Louisiana is using nearly half its first shipments of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to hold large walk-up and drive-thru immunization events at convention centers, sports stadiums and other community sites across the state.

The first of the vaccination events began Thursday at the New Orleans convention center, a baseball stadium in Metairie, the Lake Charles Civic Center and a network of health clinics in the New Orleans suburb of St. Tammany Parish.

“While COVID vaccine supply remains limited, we are excited to have enough vaccine to be able to begin holding mass vaccination events this week across the state and give residents another way to access the vaccine,” Health Secretary Courtney Phillips said in a statement.

The Louisiana Department of Health said 16,840 doses of the state's first allocation of 37,900 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses will be administered through the events, which are scheduled to continue through March 16. The largest allocations include 4,300 vaccinations planned Saturday at a Bossier City arena, and the 2,700 shots to be administered at the New Orleans convention center through Tuesday.

Other vaccination sites include the Monroe Civic Center, the Rayne Civic Center, the fairgrounds in New Iberia and a Lafayette recreation center.

Vaccinations are available to people who meet Louisiana's current eligibility criteria, and registration is required for each site. The health department has posted details online of locations and registration information.

Johnson & Johnson doses also will go to other community events and targeted clinics for K-12 teachers who were recently made eligible for the vaccine in Louisiana, according to the health department.

More than 1.6 million of Louisiana's 4.6 million residents currently have access to the coronavirus vaccine, under eligibility rules set by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Most of them can only get vaccinated if they schedule their own appointments through the network of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and community vaccine sites administering the doses.

Those who are eligible include anyone age 65 and older; K-12 teachers and school support staff; people who work at daycare centers; pregnant women; health care employees; first responders; people who live and work at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; state and local officials handling COVID-19 response; elections workers; and people age 55 to 64 who have one of a dozen preexisting conditions, among others.

Demand continues to exceed the available supply of vaccine doses, in Louisiana and across the nation. But the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — on top of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been available for months — will help to boost supplies.

Public health officials are particularly excited about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it's a one-dose shot, rather than the two doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna immunizations, and it doesn't require ultra-cold storage, making it easier to transport and store.

That makes it a good candidate for mass vaccination events.

“These events, while important, are just one piece of the larger puzzle that is our vaccine rollout. To ensure everyone has access to the vaccines, including our underserved communities, we know we need a mix of options — hospitals, pharmacies, clinics and targeted community events," Phillips said.

About 14% of the state’s total population has received at least the first dose of the two-dose vaccine regimens available, according to state health department data. Louisiana ranked 37th among states Thursday in the number of vaccine doses administered per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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