COVID-19 vaccine supplies in the county have increased dramatically over a month ago, and some in the medical field expect the county could move to the next phase — patients with chronic illnesses and essential workers — as early as Monday.
By next week, agencies in the county are expected to be getting 900 first doses per week.
The state has already begun shipping 400 doses per week to Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation, with the first two shipments to arrive this week, making up for time lost due to the ice storms. The clinic is the first in the state as part of a federal effort to ramp up mass vaccination efforts in underserved communities by targeting Federally Qualified Health Clinics.
“We expect an initial dosage of 200 vaccines, and as we demonstrate our ability to get those out, that number will go up,” MCHC Chief Executive Officer Mike Caudill said.
The federal vaccines are aimed at patients 65 and over currently, and the state doses at 70 and over.
“If they’re not over 70, they still need to call and get on the list,” Caudill said.
The target is expected to change to Phase 1C next week, meaning those 60 and above, anyone 16 and above with high-risk health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and all essential workers.
Meanwhile, first doses arriving at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital are up to 120 per week from 100 a week ago, and Pine Mountain Pharmacy will also get 100 doses per week through the federal pharmacy program.The health department will continue receiving 100 doses per week.
Amy Casebolt, owner and pharmacist at Pine Mountain Pharmacy, said her pharmacy was supposed to get 100 doses last week, but the weather-delayed delivery. While MCHC will get double the weekly dosages this week to make up for the delay, the pharmacy will not.
“I was afraid they’d do that to me. It’s just me and two girls here to give the vaccines, but I got the email and they’re sending the regular 100 doses,” Casebolt said.
At Whitesburg ARH, the number of vaccine doses will increase by 20 percent, Community CEO Dena Sparkman said.
“No word yet on if that bump is permanent, but we expect it to be,” she said.
Nurses from the hospital were scheduled to be at Letcher Manor Nursing home yesterday (Tuesday) to give second doses to 12 patients who had not yet received them.
Scott Lockard, Kentucky River District Director of Public Health, said it’s a relief to see vaccine shipments increasing, but warned that people should continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings at least for the time being.
“We don’t want to see people get complacent,” Lockard said. “We can see light at the end of the tunnel, so let’s not blow it at this point.”
The number of cases statewide has seen a large drop over the past two weeks. In Letcher County, the incident rate could be back below 10 percent this week for the first time since last summer. Schools started back on Monday on a hybrid schedule, and teachers and staff are to get their second doses of the vaccine next week.
Lockard urged people to sign up for the vaccine and get it as soon as it becomes available to them, rather than waiting until later.
In Israel, where 27 percent of the population has already completed their vaccinations, a study has shown the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has reduced transmission of the virus by 89.4 percent, and that it is 99 percent effective in preventing deaths. Pfizer and BioNTech have been cautious about the results, saying they intend to carefully examine the data, and some experts warn that the study did not take into account that people who are fully vaccinated might not be tested for the virus as often as people who have not been vaccinated.
Testing has shown the vaccine prevents more than 94 percent of symptomatic infections by SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID 19.
So far, 196,209 persons over the age of 70 have received the shots in Kentucky, the largest group by far. The vaccine has also been available to first responders and medical personnel, and has been given to so-called “vaccine hunters” who wait in line to get leftover doses of the vaccine given to prevent it from spoiling.
Other age groups who have received the vaccine, and the numbers who have received it are:
Ages 60-69 – 67,478
Ages 50-59 – 72,668
Ages 40-49 – 73,706
Ages 30-39 – 63,844
Ages 16-29 – 45,158