Ravalli County’s supply of vaccine doses against the COVID-19 virus jumped a whopping 600% in the first week of February as the county received a 600 dose delivery from the state. They had been regularly receiving 100 doses per week for the last five weeks and administering 20 doses a day. According to Commission Chair Jeff Burrows the county currently has the ability to administer up to 80 doses per day, but supply has been a problem.
Expectations soared following the emergency authorization of the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines against COVID-19 last December. But the roll out of the vaccines has been slow, generating a great deal of frustration on the part of the public and local government. A priority list for determining who receives the vaccines was designed to be implemented in phases. At the top of the list were essential workers, first responders and other health providers being highlighted, and the most vulnerable, beginning with the elderly who are already compromised in some way and those living in assisted care and nursing home facilities.
Initially the doses sent to Ravalli County were allocated for the Phase 1 A essential workers only because the federal government had made contracts with private providers, Walgreens and CVS, to provide vaccinations to the assisted living and nursing homes in the states. It took Walgreens time to establish its delivery system in Montana but a deadline was set and residents in the last of the assisted living and nursing homes in the county received their vaccinations on the last day of the deadline that had been set.
Burrows, who also serves on the county Health Board, said when the county finally received word that the first doses of vaccine would be arriving they were prepared, and registration was opened to accept appointments.
He said that each county put in a request for vaccines to the state. The state gets doses of vaccine from the federal government and then divides it up between the counties. Every county gets two-day notice that the vaccines have been shipped and what the amount is.
Once the county began receiving only 100 doses per week they realized they had to shut down the appointment registration. They had within 24 hours scheduled up to six weeks of appointments. Since they were only notified two days in advance of the 600 dose shipment they had to make a plan for getting it distributed. It’s hard to plan and manage something like this with such short notice, he said.
According to Burrows the county’s allotments were supposed to be based on a percentage of eligible population in each county. He said they have consistently complained to state and federal offices that Ravalli County was not getting enough and not getting it fast enough.
“You can look at the numbers,” said Burrows, “and see that we are under-allocated.” He said that when he looked at state-wide figures concerning the latest distribution it was disturbing because it appeared that the increase in Ravalli County’s allocation came at some expense to other counties in the state who got less this time. He said he doesn’t really know why the county got more this time.
“It’s almost as though we complained enough about our under-allocation based on our percentage of eligible population that they actually had to take from other counties to make up for what we got this time. I think we just got a better share of what’s out there,” he said.
The latest shipment was split between Public Health and Marcus Daly Hospital for distribution with each getting 300 doses. Public Health has transferred 100 of those doses to Ravalli Family Medicine to begin the process of vaccinating their Phase 1B patients. The remaining 200 doses will be used to cover previously scheduled appointments at the county’s new Annex location, on the corner of State and 3rd street.
Burrows said that there are signs that more vaccine may become available. He said that Rocky Mountain Laboratory has agreed to allow Marcus Daly Hospital to store shipments of the Pfizer vaccine in the lab’s freezers. Burrows said the Pfizer shipments come in 975 dose shipments versus the Moderna which comes in 100 dose shipments. He said Marcus Daly may be able to pass some of its Moderna vaccine over to Public Health as the hospital begins using the Pfizer vaccine.
“I know people are frustrated about getting the vaccine, but we are not sitting on any doses. We are administering them as fast as we are getting them. We are putting in calls to the state and writing our Congressmen, legislators and DPHHS, saying “send us doses, we are ready for them.”
To date, Public Health has administered 500 doses of vaccine, with residents beginning to return for their 2nd doses.
The county has also established an online vaccine registry where residents can register a “Notice of Intent”. The registry is a resource pool that Public Health will draw from to schedule appointments. It’s not a guarantee of a particular appointment or particular vaccine. Public Health will use the resource pool to contact those registered residents directly for scheduling.
Citizens can register online at https://ravalli.us/645/Vaccine-NOI-Registration. In the sites first 24 hours of operation Public Health received 1,774 “Notices of Intent”. The county tentatively plans to begin to schedule appointments the week of the 15th of February for the following week based on doses received.