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Officials: Self-Scheduling COVID-19 Vaccinations OK, But Keep Counties In Loop

Pharmacist Tricia Trueblood with CVS, holds vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at the Isles of Vero Beach assisted and independent senior living community in Vero Beach, Fla. The government tasked CVS and Walgreens with administering the shots to long-term care locations in nearly every state. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MOUNDSVILLE — As vaccine eligibility opened to more and more people over the last few weeks, more people have taken to scheduling their own appointments to get the shot.

While local health officers are on board with people taking matters into their own hands, one said it has turned the normal business of scheduling vaccination appointments through the county into more of a chore.

Marshall County Threat Preparedness Director Mark Ackermann said his department’s daily task of calling people to schedule appointments now must account for people on the registry who scheduled a shot at both the county level and independently through pharmacies. People who got vaccinated on their own terms, he said, should remove themselves from the state Everbridge system to avoid redundancy and wasted time.

“We’re wasting a lot of time making phone calls to people who have opted to go to Walgreens — and that’s perfectly fine, but we wish they would take themselves off the state registration system,” Ackermann said. “Walgreens is no longer pulling from the state registry, so now we’re still calling these people, making attempts to get a hold of them, and then we find out, after their appointment time, they decided to go to Walgreens without notifying us.”

More than just a wasted minute on a phone call, Ackermann said, missing these appointments sets county workers and volunteers back hours waiting for someone who doesn’t show up to their appointment.

“That’s another two hours wasted, waiting for someone to come in and get the vaccine into their arm,” he said. “… We don’t care where you go, but if you’re not going to come to our appointment, just let us know.”

That said, Ackermann said local pharmacies were doing great work in getting vaccine distributed to the community, with the only downside to the arrangement being that the health department was left holding unfilled appointments.

Ackermann said that due to problems filling appointments, the county specifically requested fewer doses of the vaccine from the state — only 300 for this week, due to a fear of shots coming in and going unused, wasting doses of the life-saving serum.

“We were just afraid that we weren’t going to be able to fill it, and we didn’t want to run into the possibility of vaccine going to waste,” he said.

Ackermann worked long hours over the weekend going through the Everbridge system, cleaning up Marshall County’s list of names to eliminate redundancies, caused by people singing up multiple times, usually by mistake or re-registering with family members.

“It looked like our registration numbers were way higher than we were,” he said.

In Ohio County, health administrator Howard Gamble advised people who choose to take the pharmacies up on their vaccination efforts to not get frustrated with the system, especially after some people, in earlier weeks, reported difficulty scheduling their second dose. Newer appointments now schedule first and second doses simultaneously as part of the registration system through Walgreens.

“Don’t get frustrated. It’s a learning experience,” he said. “What we’ve been seeing is people not able to get in for their second dose. Don’t be concerned. Walgreens will eventually catch up, and their systems will too.”

Gamble also cautioned people to make sure they go back to the same place they got their first dose, rather than trying to squeeze in somewhere else when the time comes.

“If you do get your first dose at Walgreens, or Kroger, or another participating pharmacy across the tri-state area, you need to go back there for your second,” he added. “We had a lot of people calling in; be patient, but call the county if you’re really late. We’ve made up a few people who were very late or they missed, … but that’s very seldom, very few people.”

Gamble was glad to see pharmacies allowing people to schedule their own appointments on their own initiative, as getting more vaccine doses distributed was a good thing for public health.

“I think it’s going to help,” he said, “with the overall numbers, going towards more people vaccinated as we move to the spring, that we’re able to see lower positivity, and lower number of infections, and that’s what we want. We want to be able to control the disease. We’re always going to have it, but if we can control it through this initial vaccine program, that’ll be really good. We welcome it. It’s a benefit to us, overall, for the public health effort.”

Pharmacies, Gamble added, get their vaccines distributed from the federal government, rather than the state-level source as counties do. Therefore, vaccine supplies available to pharmacies will not be the same as those available to counties. Ohio County, Gamble said previously, was only set to receive enough supply for 900 new first doses this week.

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