Delaware County touts ability to rev up vaccinations, laments low availability

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

The Delaware Public Health District could accelerate vaccinations against COVID-19 significantly if more vaccine were available, health commissioner Shelia Hiddleson told Delaware City Council on Feb. 22. 

She told ThisWeek the county had received 9,100 doses of vaccine as of Feb. 23, administered by the health district and other local providers.

Delaware Public Health District

"We have about 18,000 people on our waiting list, unfortunately, and we are booked clear through the end of March," she told council. "What you may or may not know is that each county receives a specific allocation of vaccine. We generally find that out on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. And that amount of vaccine is divvied up amongst all of the providers that signed up that they want to provide."

Those allocations are determined by the Ohio Department of Health, she told ThisWeek.

She told council the health district has scheduled 600 to 700 vaccination appointments a week, and if more vaccine were available, that number could increase significantly.

"Our only holdup right now ... is just not getting more vaccine. If they give me more vaccine, we can give more shots,” she said. “We have a great staff; we have a lot of really good partners. Our EMS are helping us with those. The day that we did the Berlin (Township) clinic, we had 24 vaccinators all day long. The majority of those were volunteers. Either school nurses, EMS or some of our medical reserve corps volunteers.

"We know that by March 1 we could be doing 3,000 shots at least three times a week, and we believe that by April 1, we could be giving 4,400 shots at least three days a week if we had the vaccine," Hiddleson said. 

Even with more vaccine available, the higher number is probably unrealistic, she said. The health district also is required to file reports with the state within 24 hours of vaccinations, creating a time demand that limits how many shots could be given in a week.

"If we were doing 12,000 a week, there's no way that we could be doing that, but ... aside from documentation, we could give that many," she said. "We know that we could give about 4,400 vaccines in a day (in theory). If we had 40 vaccinators and with our current supply of volunteers, staff, our medical reserve corps, we can do that."

The vaccination clinics held for local public schools employees showed the health district could handle a high volume of appointments, Hiddleson said.

"When we did the clinic for the schools, we had a plan for 4,000," she said.

To accomplish it, health department workers were on the scene from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., she said.

"We had a minimum of 24 vaccinators at all times," she said.

Dolores Smith, a member of the health district’s board of health, said the county has shown what it’s capable of accomplishing.

"I think we have really seen how hard our public health department has always worked in the county,” she told council. “But now we have become very aware of what they can really do under stress."

  Heavy snowfall the week of Feb. 15 delayed delivery of that week's vaccine to Feb. 22, when two weeks’ worth of supply had arrived in the county, Hiddleson said.

The week of Feb. 8, the county received "1,500 doses of vaccine for the whole county, and each of the (additional) providers got 100 doses,” she said. “And while it perhaps spreads out the vaccine a little bit, I do think that it makes it a little harder for our public to be able to get scheduled because they're having to check various sites for that."

"The state is trying to go to a statewide system. There are lots and lots of concerns we have as a local health district about that," Hiddleson said. "We're working with the state to see if we can integrate our entire process into the registration because, as you all know, nothing is ever as simple as just a registration button.

“Our entire process, from the moment we first contact the patient until we send them away after their second dose, is all integrated into our process. So we're trying to figure out how we can go online with the state system but still continue with the process we have been perfecting with the flu clinics with many, many years.

“Our system works very well. ... We did about 3,900 vaccines for the K-through-12 (school staff); that was a specific pod of vaccine that came just for the K through 12, and that clinic ran very, very smoothly because we really do have a good process," she said.

Hiddleson said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given local authorities the option of decreasing the period of COVID-19 quarantine from 14 to 10 days, despite the fact the CDC hasn't shortened its estimates on the virus' incubation period.

A shorter quarantine period could increase the virus' spread, she said.

"We already know that if we put someone in quarantine for 14 days, chances are they're not staying there the full 14 days,” she said. “They're probably skedaddling out of that a little bit quicker. So the worry is if we now say 10 and they're taking it upon themselves to come out at day 4, day 5, day 6, when that is when most people would become infectious. We do worry about that."

 She told council the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was considering approval of a new vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

The Ohio Department of Health website says the vaccines available thus far are manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Hiddleson said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were available for use a week after the FDA approved them. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine could "dramatically increase the number of doses that are coming into our county," she said.

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