County waiting on vaccine supply

Chad Frey
The Kansan

If Harvey County were to, in the word of commissioner Randy Hague, magically receive enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate everyone in Harvey County, that effort would take about 34,000.

NMC Med, Health Ministries and the Harvey County Health Department are working to get vaccine doses to distribute to the county population.

"If you got me 34,000 doses of vaccine, the number of people that jump up and down and volunteer to help distribute would be amazing," said Toby Harkins, assistant director of the Harvey County Health Department on Jan. 19.

"Help is on the way, this is just a matter of supply and demand," said commissioner Randy Hague. 

The Health Department has received 400 doses of a vaccine by Moderna — a vaccine that requires two shots to be given. Those doses were earmarked for healthcare workers and first responders and have been exhausted. Newton Medical Center has also been vaccinating healthcare workers, vaccinating 378 people with their shipments of the vaccine from Phizer. 

Health Ministries has done the same as Newton Medical Center, while area pharmacies have been vaccinating the residents and staff of long term care facilities in the area. 

"We are in communication with the Long Term Care units weekly," Harkins said. "They are recording 90 percent completion with their patients and 65 percent completion with their staff. They are going the right way with their distribution. Everyone is surprised by the timing. Many expected this in December."

Currently there are more than 300 active cases of the disease in the county, and 33 people have died. The United States passed the 400,000 death mark on Jan. 19. 

The Health Department has hosted practice distribution center exercises in the past, and the Harvey County COVID-19 task force has planned for possible "point of distribution" vaccinations at some point in the future — if there would be a large enough distribution of vaccines to the county to make those possible

"We have had distribution plans in place for years. ... the planning process is in the background and happening, but we have nothing to show because we do not have a vaccine to be given," said county administrator Anthony Swartzendruber.

At this time the county health department is not maintaining waiting lists for COVID-19 vaccinations. Currently the department is completing Phase I — healthcare workers and first responders.

"I want people to be told accurate information. The concept of a waiting list. First of all, I think we are waiting. Second of all, I don't want anyone to wait," Harkins said. 

He said Tuesday that waiting lists would be "wonderful" once the supply available to the county is known. Without a supply, the list, he said is just a book that sits on a desk.

The county is waiting for information from KDHE as to how much, and when, vaccine will be made available along with who those doses will be designated for.

"As soon as there is availability, we will announce it loudly," Harkins said. "... There is not really one place to seat blame [for this], but I do think we are are in a wonderful place here in Harvey County. We are communicating. We have access to people and the information we give to people is accurate and dependable. ... Could this be better? It could. Are we seeing the best of Harvey County, we certainly are."

Swartzendruber said Phase II — essential workers and those over 65 — will take a significant amount of time in Harvey County. The reason for that is the focus on the over 65 age group, which represents 19 percent of county population. 

"We will be in this phase of a long time if we do not have a supply of vaccine," Swartzendruber said. 

Two more vaccines are slated to come out next month — including a single-dose vaccine. 

"There is a lot of excitement about those," Harkins said. "One of them is a single dose vaccine, using different technology. That could ramp things up considerably."