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More People Seek COVID-19 Shots In Louisiana As Cases Rise

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As COVID cases spike across the U.S., here's a silver lining. There's been a steady increase in the number of people who are getting vaccinated. In Louisiana, the daily rate has gone up by more than 300%, according to the White House. This is a race against the delta variant because even as vaccinations climb, Louisiana recorded more than 7,500 new coronavirus cases over just a few days. Here's what the governor, John Bel Edwards, told NPR this morning.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: We're in a very bad place. This delta variant has proved to be the perfect storm for us.

SHAPIRO: We're joined now by Dr. John Heaton, who is president and chief medical officer of Louisiana Children's Medical Center. Good to have you here.

JOHN HEATON: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Will you begin by giving us a picture of what your vaccination centers are like right now? Are you noticing an increase in people showing up?

HEATON: We are. You know, we had a very aggressive vaccination program starting back in March as the vaccine became widely available. But by the end of May, interest had really lagged. There just wasn't a lot of takers. However, I think that the delta variant has changed the relative risk calculation for a lot of our population. So I think a lot of people who are procrastinating or really didn't know anybody who had had COVID have seen just how dangerous this variant is. I think the fact that this variant seems to have a much more profound effect on children has also gotten people's attention.

SHAPIRO: I want to talk in a moment about the impact on children, but I'm curious why you think fear of the delta variant has motivated people when incentives that the state offered, ranging from free alcohol to a million-dollar lottery to educational scholarships, didn't move the needle in this way.

HEATON: Let's look at it this way. If you're a 30-year-old back in May, the chance of you getting a case of COVID that's going to land you in the hospital is pretty darn low. And it's - up till then, it's probably not going to affect your kids. Your parents have probably been vaccinated. Your grandparents have probably been vaccinated. So whether it's procrastination, don't want a shot, don't want to submit to government control - all of the various and sundry, not completely logical but pretty rampant reasons - the risk calculation these folks were making was that, you know, I'm just not going to do this. Now all of a sudden, that's changed. And we have folks that, you know - they're worried about their kids. They're worried about their families, and they're worried about themselves because now they might know somebody who was otherwise healthy in their 30s or 40s who has landed in the hospital on oxygen or worse.

SHAPIRO: You work at a children's hospital, and a Louisiana Health Department official told NPR this morning that the delta variant is infecting children at a higher rate. Can you tell us about what you're seeing among kids?

HEATON: So we previously never had a census of patients in our children's hospital of over 7. And most of those were kids with MIS-C, an inflammatory condition that impacts kids post-COVID. At one point last week, we had 20 kids in the hospital, five of them in the ICU and the vast majority of them with primary pulmonary COVID similar to what you see in adults. And I know that children's hospitals in Texas and Arkansas reported the same phenomenon. You know, whether this is a component of the delta variant being more transmissible or more virulent in children, I can't say. But observationally, this is a very disturbing development.

SHAPIRO: How are you holding up? This has been a very long marathon. And I imagine as the vaccination campaign began, you thought maybe we were close to seeing the end of it.

HEATON: I think that, like everywhere else in the country, providers are tired. We're tired of seeing people get sick with COVID, you know, now, in some cases, unnecessarily. We're tired of continuing demands and diversions from our day job of trying to keep the population healthy. And it wears on you. But, you know, we need to take care of our people.

SHAPIRO: That's Dr. John Heaton, president and chief medical officer of Louisiana Children's Medical Center. Thank you for talking with us.

HEATON: Happy to do it. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.