Local Health Departments: COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Remains a Choke Point as Eligibility Expands
WHEELING — Though the number of people eligible to get the vaccine skyrocketed Monday, and while the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department and its partners are ready and able to meet the demand, the sticking point for vaccine delivery remains supply-side.
Health Administrator Howard Gamble said the county’s clinics would receive 900 new first doses this week. Gamble said there was not expected to be an issue securing a supply of vaccine for second-doses, as well as some extra for other, specific uses, such as higher education or school programs.
“It’s wonderful; the only disadvantage is that we only have so much vaccine,” he said. “Nine hundred this week for new individuals … plus some second doses as well. For new people, it’s not a lot.
“We wish it was more, but we understand that it’s limited,” Gamble added. “Everybody needs it across the state, and everyone, whether it’s a county clinic or another local program, they’re doing the same thing I am: looking for vaccine, but we’ll work with what we have.”
The busiest days for the clinic, Gamble said, were Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with a school clinic scheduled for Saturday.
Gamble was glad eligibility had opened up, as wider eligibility meant more people would be able to get the shot, improving the situation from the public health perspective. Gamble said the county will go back and double-check that the older residents had gotten their first dose. He asked that older residents get in touch with the county if their first appointment slipped through the cracks.
“It’s very important that, if we missed someone or someone has been overlooked, or they missed the call, that we get them in,” Gamble said. “That can be done by way of an individual calling the county, especially if they’re 70, 80, 90-year-olds that we somehow missed, that we get them an appointment at The Highlands; or using some of our limited, discretionary vaccines, we’ll try to get them scheduled at another time at one of our daily clinics.
“However, if you’ve opened it up to 16 and over, that’s everybody, even with the priority groups we added previously,” he added. “The volunteer staff call multiple times to the lists that we have. We do find someone every once in a while, … and they are at times finding people who missed the call or didn’t get it the first time. We do need to get those arrangements made.”
As of Monday, Gamble said, the county had already been scheduling new appointments using the previously issued list of names before Gov. Jim Justice lifted the age restrictions. Under the new protocols, the county would need to obtain a new list.
“On the plus side, we’ll probably be able to schedule fairly quickly, now that you have a larger list” he said. “Scheduling is going to go a little quicker. The downside is, now that it’s open to everybody, some may feel they should have gotten a different age group — that 17 or 20 year old, could they have waited?
“From a county health side, we try to make some discretion,” Gamble said, “but for the most part, we start at the top of the list and work down, and try to get as many people scheduled as we can so we have a successful clinic and we’re ready for the next round.”
In Marshall County, Threat Preparedness Director Mark Ackermann said the county had voluntarily received a lower number of doses — 300 this week — in response to ongoing issues with scheduling. Ackermann said he worked through the weekend, late into the night, to clean up the county’s registry of duplicate names.
“We were just afraid that we wouldn’t be able to fill them all,” he said. “We didn’t want to run into the possibility of having vaccine that we couldn’t get out. … It’s the fact that people will accept the appointments and no-show on us. If you have someone with a 4 p.m. appointment who doesn’t show up for their vaccine, it takes time to get someone notified, get them a shot, get through the monitoring time. We’re getting out of there at 6, 6:30 at night for a clinic that closes at 4.”
Ackermann was glad that eligibility opened up, as now rather than pulling from certain lists of names on the registry, the health department would be able to simply work forward on a first-in, first-out basis.
“We’ve had a lot of younger people calling in today based on when they registered,” Ackermann said. “Our call list is based off the earliest registrants in the county. Literally, it’s set up in date order. We’re taking the oldest registrations out, giving them a little while to call in, and if they don’t, we send out another group.”