Harvey County, clinic partner to distribute COVID-19 vaccine

Chad Frey
The Kansan
The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Newton Med this week.

The Harvey County Health Department is expecting a shipment of about 400 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine sometime this week, and with it, a problem. 

When word gets out that the vaccine is at the health department, there is a crush of phone calls from those who want to get the shot. 

"The No. 1 goal is to get vaccine into as many arms as quickly as possible," said Harvey County Commissioner Randy Hague. "That should be the goal, and I hope everyone in the county will take the vaccine."

There is a new partnership to help the effort. The Harvey County Health Department and Health Ministries announced a partnership Tuesday to streamline the scheduling and giving vaccinations for Harvey County residents 65 years old and older.

"this is an exciting opportunity to work together to coordinate vaccine delivery to an important, at-risk demographic," said Health Ministries CEO Matt Schmidt. "These vaccinations are an important step toward protectng the health of our senior citizens in Harvey County." 

And there is now a new call center. Starting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, those wanting to make an appointment to get a vaccine can call 316-836-4990.

Last week, the health department let area schools, first responders and others know there were 300 shots available. There was a scramble for appointments, and in one and a half business days all doses were given. 

And there were people disappointed that they did not get the shot. Others were even more disappointed that they could never get through to the department by phone to make an appointment. 

"Some people can't just sit at a phone and call over and over for an hour," Hague said.

And, according to Hague, the phone lines were so overwhelmed at the department that callers were not getting an error message telling them the number was not operational rather than a busy signal.

"One thing we know now is we need an additional phone line, just for that," said county health department director Lynnette Redington.

The call center will schedule appointments for a COVID-19 vaccine point of dispensing, with the first dispensing scheduled for Feb. 4. Redington did not announce the location of the POD, only that it will not be at either the health department or Health Ministries. 

The health department has run POD simulations for years in an effort to be prepared if one might become needed. 

After appointments for the initial POD are exhausted, call center workers will continue to take calls to establish a waiting list limited to vaccine seekers 65 and older. Heath representatives will call those on the waiting list to schedule future appointments when vaccine becomes available. 

The commission discussed how to try to avoid the crush of calls and a fair way to distribute the limited supply of vaccine. 

The call center wiil operate from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays once launched. 

"This is such a moving target, there is no doubt [the health department] will be making adjustments all the time," said Harvey County Commissioner Don Schroeder.

The Harvey County Health Department is not alone in struggling to keep up with demand. Neighboring Butler County has found itself in the same predicament. When news broke last week that the state was moving to Phase 2 of vaccinations — focusing on first responders, K-12 school personnel and those over the age of 65 — the limited number of appointments available through an online portal set up by the Butler County Health Department filled quickly. 

When 95-year-old Virginia Ball logged on to the Butler County Health Department’s website to schedule appointments for herself and her son, the former "Rosie the Riveter" discovered there were no upcoming appointments available. Not next week, or the week after that, not even within the next couple of months.

“Limited vaccines mean limited supply,” said Jaime Downs, director of the Butler County Health Department. “We are tasked with exhausting the full weekly allotment that we get so we are in the process of doing that.”

It is not known from week to week how many doses counties will receive, which adds to the frustration for those who want to get vaccinated. 

What is known is that this phase will likely take some time — county staff offered an estimate that 30% of Harvey County falls into Phase 2, which would be roughly 11,000 people. At the current rate of 400 doses per week, it could take months to get through this phase. 

Health department staff estimated that with a sufficient supply of vaccine, it would take more than three weeks to to give the first of two vaccine doses to everyone in the county. 

"This will stretch out into spring," Westfall said. "Please be patient."

KDHE anticipates Phase 2 vaccinations to continue through April. Redington is hoping that vaccine supplies will increase during that time. 

The good news surrounding COVID-19 in the county this week is that case numbers are on the decline, and have been since the end of December. On Tuesday, Redington advised there were five hospitalizations — a noticeable and welcome decline.

"That is the first time we have had single digits for individuals in the hopsital for some time," Redington said.

Active case numbers fell by 147 cases during the week, dropping to 159. 

The county reported 150 news cases in the previous week.