A few short weeks ago, securing a COVID-19 vaccine may have seemed a little hit or miss. Either you didn’t qualify, or you couldn’t find an available appointment to get a shot.
Now, vaccines are widely available and most adults qualify as the state has expanded its guidelines for eligibility.
Local industries are organizing clinics for their employees, and plans are in the works for health professionals to partner with churches and others to find anyone they may have missed.
More than 3,300 vaccine doses have been administered in Allen County, according to data from the Allen County Health Department and Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
CHC/SEK, which has a clinic in Iola and 12 other counties in the region, received a windfall of vaccine supply from the federal government about four weeks ago.
Prior to that, the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Department shared its allocation of vaccine doses with its clinics in six counties.
Once that additional source of vaccine opened up, patients have flocked to CHC/SEK clinics, Robert Poole, communication and marketing director, said. The calls quickly overwhelmed the 20 operators, so the health agency set up a website to ease the burden.
The website receives between 200 and 300 visits per day. So far, CHC/SEK has administered more than 20,000 doses, including approximately 1,800 at Iola’s site.
Appointments are scheduled at the clinic, and the procedure moves fairly quickly. Paperwork and the required 15-minute, post-vaccine wait take the longest time, Poole said.
“We’re delighted that people are eager to get those shots,” Poole said. “The more we can get shots in arms, the quicker we can get back to normal.”
Poole said he enjoys seeing and hearing how grateful patients are after receiving the vaccine.
“Some are really emotional, and everyone is really appreciative,” he said. “I cried after my first shot. It was like a giant, ugly blanket got lifted off. It was the first glimmer of hope I felt in a long time. And then after that second shot, I slept better knowing I’m not bringing something home to my family.”
MEANWHILE, the Allen County Health Department has conducted several clinics with local businesses and industries, director Rebecca Johnson said.
“They’ve gone really well and we’ve been pleased with the outcome,” she said.
Gates Corporation recently completed its first employee clinic and another is scheduled for next week, both in cooperation with the county health department, Tami Comstock, with the human resources department, said.
Employees received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one dose to be fully effective. Other vaccines require two doses.
About 85 out of 320 employees signed up for the vaccine, Comstock said. They were divided into two groups, in order to minimize the disruption if employees had a reaction to the vaccine and needed to call in sick.
“We had a lot of employees go and get the shots elsewhere,” Comstock said.
But the on-site clinic allowed employees to easily obtain a vaccine. Most work 10- or 12-hour shifts, so it can be difficult to schedule an appointment at a health care facility.
“They were tickled pink to get it,” Comstock said.
B & W Trailer Hitches in Humboldt has scheduled an on-site vaccination clinic for its employees next week. About a fifth of employees have signed up, Kimberly Ivy, with the human resources department, said.
Many employees have already received a vaccination elsewhere, she said.
CHC/SEK also has conducted several clinics with businesses and industries, though none in Allen County.
“I think the county health department beat us to them. They’ve done an outstanding job,” Poole said.
The Iola health clinic did assist the health department in vaccinating teachers and others in the school system earlier in the vaccination process, he added.
BOTH POOLE and Johnson encouraged local residents to seek a vaccine if eligible, and continue to follow the COVID safety protocols.
“I would encourage residents to continue to wear masks in public, use good hygiene and social distance,” Johnson said. “With other variants now in 50 states, we need to continue to stay steadfast in our mitigation strategies.”
Now that more people are being vaccinated, CHC will expand its outreach to special populations. For example, in Crawford County, the plan is to ask church leaders to help reach a large Hispanic population. Church leaders in other communities can also help them find others who have not yet received the vaccine.
“We’re eager to get it to anyone who is interested,” Poole said.
Kansas has expanded its eligibility guidelines to cover anyone age 16 and older who works with the public.
Poole pointed out that while, technically, Kansas allows vaccine doses to those age 16 and older, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in those younger than 18. Both CHC/SEK and the health departments offer Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, though CHC/SEK has received very limited supplies of Johnson & Johnson.
State health officials on Wednsday announced a delay in shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but an increase in Pfizer and Moderna.