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Ohio County Vaccination Clinics Ready to Expand

Supply Surge Expected To Arrive Soon

File Photo by Scott McCloskey Wheeling-Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble works at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at The Highlands.

WHEELING — If the supply of COVID-19 vaccine made available to Americans arrives as expected, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is prepared to ramp up its output to meet demand.

Vaccine supplies in the United States are expected to increase through the spring, with president Joe Biden setting a goal of having all states open vaccine eligibility to all adults by May, and with a target date of May 31 for having enough supply to cover everyone.

In Ohio County, the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department has entrenched its full-time vaccine clinic at The Highlands, where up to 10 lines can be opened to administer the vaccine.

On a normal clinic day, the clinic can immunize as many as 1,000 people working at maximum capacity between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.; however, health administrator Howard Gamble said there’s still room for improvement if supply is no issue.

“If the supply side is increased dramatically, what we will do is increase the number of days for community clinics,” Gamble said. “We’re at the vaccine center around six times a week; three of those are usually smaller, scheduled second-dose clinics. If volume is increased and the county is allotted several thousand more doses of a product, we will just extend the clinics from three days to four, five, and eventually six or seven.”

At the moment, Gamble said the clinic typically staffs eight lines to administer shots.

In addition to more days, Gamble said the staff were able to adjust to working longer days, possibly stretching into the evening.

Each lane of the clinic is staffed by two people, one trained medical professional to administer the vaccine and another, a scribe, to copy information to the state’s database. The scribe position, Gamble said, can be filled by virtually anyone on the staff, freeing up medical professionals to administer vaccines in other lanes, or on other shifts.

“The system we have set up with the three entities, it’s very easy to expand from the size that we have, and if it’s tripled, doubled, etc., we can expand very quickly, matching that number of vaccines,” he said. “We have guesstimated that we can vaccinate a thousand people a day, with all lines running on a normal, 8-4 schedule. If you can schedule it, and people can come in for second shifts, you’re now into the evening hours, you just increase that.”

Clinic staff can be drawn from workers at Wheeling Hospital, the county Emergency Management Agency, or Wheeling Health Right.

“It’s very easy for us to go to 10 lines very quickly,” Gamble added. “Right now at a clinic line, you may have a nurse putting in the data, plus a nurse giving the dose. If you need to increase the lines, you replace the (scribe) with someone non-medical, and we can do the data input, while that nurse goes to another line. The increase can be done very, very quickly if we need to be. We have a good crew up there right now.”

Gamble did point out one complication with scheduling clinics is the shelf life of the Pfizer vaccine, which lasts around five days from pickup. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be held for around a month in a refrigerator, Gamble said, posing less of an issue.

“If your vaccine is arriving on a Tuesday, the clinics can only start Wednesday (to) Sunday, until you hit your five-day mark. It has some challenges — it’s not as easy as ‘We got a lot of vaccine, let’s run these clinics constantly.’ It has to have five-day use unless the vaccine is shipped and held at participating clinics and health departments on the super freezers.”

This week’s vaccination clinics are for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, should be arriving with a delivery today and held while the health department determines how to best apply the doses.

Gamble said the one-shot vaccine had been available since last week, but scheduling conflicts with delivery kept them out of the county’s hands for around a week.

“It was actually available to me Wednesday of last week, but Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are our big vaccine days. I can’t drive out of Wheeling to go pick it up, so it was held in their refrigerators until pickup. Once we pick it up, (Interim Health Officer Dr. Thomas) Wack and I will evaluate how to get that out in the best manner.”

The candidates for the one-dose shot, Gamble mused, could include homebound individuals or those living in a group home.

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