Clinic goes well, but dose shipments are unreliable
By Anna Jauhola
While the nation struggles to get enough vaccine on hand to inoculate the population against COVID-19, Kittson County is no different.
In recent weeks, county residents had heard Kittson Healthcare in Hallock was keeping a list of those 65 and older who wanted to be vaccinated. The situation quickly spiraled in a direction the facility couldn’t have predicted.
“Here’s the truth about the list,” said Cindy Urbaniak, director of public health. “When people heard the vaccine was going to be coming to the county … people wanted to be sure it was known they wanted a vaccination. So, people started calling. Initially, the intent was we put them on a list because we don’t want to waste a single vaccine in this county.”
However, that intent soon became overwhelming. While Kittson Healthcare and public health worked to vaccinate healthcare workers, they found they could squeeze one or two more doses of vaccine out of many vials.
“We started the list with the idea that if we had … extra doses left, we wanted to have a backup plan for getting it to people,” Urbaniak said. “We didn’t ever advertise or broadcast that we were maintaining a list. But it went by word of mouth, and that went quickly, so people were calling.”
The number of the list grew to more than 350 names and Urbaniak said that became a question of how does the facility manage the list?
Early last week, nursing leadership at Kittson Healthcare gathered to discuss a strategy for distributing the vaccine to phase 1b – people 65 and older, preschool through 12th grade staff, and daycare providers.
They decided to hold a vaccination clinic at Assembly of God Church in Hallock on Thursday, Jan. 21. Part of that clinic was to complete phase 1a, which was to inoculate the rest of the county’s essential workers such as firefighters, hospice volunteers, public safety employees and group home direct care staff. The left-over doses provided vaccines for 67 people in phase 1b.
In Kittson County, it is estimated there are 1,000 people age 65 and older. The state of Minnesota has 5 million residents and needs approximately 1 million doses of the vaccine to inoculate the population included in phase 1b, but is only receiving 60,000 doses a week.
Urbaniak said the facility announced on Facebook at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 20 they would take appointments from the phase 1b demographic to be vaccinated.
“Within 25 minutes, it was a madhouse (in the business office),” she said. “And it continued to be a madhouse until we posted at 10 a.m. that there were no more appointments available.”
She said, from an ethical standpoint, the nursing leadership overall didn’t feel comfortable determining who on the initial list should get vaccine above others.
Although there was a mad rush to get an appointment for Jan. 21, and the disappointment of those who thought they’d be guaranteed a vaccine by being on “the list,” the first vaccine clinic went well.
“We overestimated how much vaccine we had,” Urbaniak said. “I explained this to the six people that were not vaccinated (at the clinic). Six people had appointments but were not vaccinated because sometimes we can get an extra dose from the vial, and sometimes we cannot. They were very understanding.”
It is unclear when those six will receive their vaccine, but Urbaniak said the facility has retained the patients’ consent forms and will contact them when vaccine is available.
“It’s possible they could receive their vaccine next Thursday, but we can’t guarantee that. I hope it happens, but we’ll see,” she said.
A second vaccination clinic is already set up for Thursday, Jan. 28 and those appointments are also full, Urbaniak said.
“We knew we were getting in additional vaccine and so when the Jan. 21 clinic filled, we overflowed into Jan. 28. Only the Jan. 21 clinic was advertised – again so that we could plan to get all the doses into people and not waste,” she said.
After that clinic, there’s no official word on further events as the word on supply is still sketchy.
Kittson Healthcare receives its doses of vaccine from the regional hospital coalition, and Kittson County Public Health receives its vaccine from the state.
“We’re fortunate,” Urbaniak said. “But public health has also been asked to give up vaccine to other counties who are not done with the priority 1a group and needed additional doses of vaccine. So we did give up 100 doses of vaccine last week to Polk County.”
While public health would rather have put those vaccines in Kittson County residents’ arms, Urbaniak said they also need to follow state department of health rules.
As of Friday, Jan. 22, Urbaniak was hopeful that Johnson & Johnson Company will soon have emergency authorization for its vaccine, giving the nation a third vaccine supplier.
At this point, Kittson Healthcare is no longer maintaining a list of those who wish to be vaccinated. They are working on how best to communicate with the public as they’ve received complaints of primarily posting information on Facebook. They plan to also update the county information line – 218-843-8888 – regularly. They also hope younger people will help those 65 and older who don’t have Facebook.
“If you know your mother wants a vaccination, you either need to tell them or call to make an appointment for them,” Urbaniak said.
She also warns, for those who receive vaccinations now and in the future, they still need to follow the public health rules.
“You are still going to have to wear a mask, still going to have to wash your hands, social distance and stay home if you are sick,” she said. “Those public health practices are going to stay into effect until some science tells us we have enough people vaccinated that we can start relaxing some of those rules.”
While Kittson County waits for more vaccine, Urbaniak said if you are offered vaccination through another provider – such as the Veterans Administration, Sanford or Altru – take it. The county cannot guarantee how much vaccine it will receive and, as evidenced with last week’s vaccination clinic, appointments will fill up quickly.