As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into 2021, the news of vaccines to combat it is welcome. How quickly these vaccines will be delivered into the arms of Boone County residents was what Boone County justices of the peace wanted to know Tuesday night. They posed their questions to Sammie Cribbs, RN, BSN, chief nursing officer, and Josh Bright, PharmD, vice president of operations, at North Arkansas Regional Medical Center. They attended the quorum court’s committee meetings to present an update on the hospital’s efforts to manage the disease.
The hospital has received over 2,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as the hospital has the ultra-low temperature freezer in which to store about 20,000 doses at negative 70 degrees Celsius. Once removed from the freezer the vaccine is viable for 120 hours. The hospital is one of three regional distribution hubs for the vaccine in the state.
Guidelines and protocols for distributing the vaccine are under the direction of the state, and earlier in the day Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined the procedure. Hutchinson said the state is currently in Phase 1-A of administering vaccines. Individuals in that group include high priority healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents and other high priority groups.
Bright said 330 doses were received by the hospital last Dec. 18. Most of those vials were overfilled so 395 doses were able to be given to hospital workers, direct healthcare workers such as dentists and optometrists, fire and emergency care workers. In four days, through Dec. 22, the initial doses of vaccine were administered. Vaccine will continue to be administered to fire, police and others identified in Phase 1-A of the state health department guidelines. The allotment will also provide second doses that will begin to be administered at the end of this week.
The hospital is advocating to the state that it can provide vaccine to bordering counties. The hospital is supplying the vaccine to three pharmacies in the county.
The Arkansas Department of Health is the actual owner of the doses and it can direct where the vaccines will go, Bright told the JPs.
Cribbs said the hospital is opening vaccine distribution as fast as it can. “Our limitation is with the guidelines from the state.”
“So, we need to call the governor and tell him to move into Phase 1-B, right?” said JP Jim Milum.
“We need to verify who is going to be in Phase 1-B,” said Bright.
JP David Thompson questioned if all the vaccines that come to Boone County could be used in Boone County, since the hospital is a regional hub.
They are slated for Boone County, but can be redistributed to other counties by order of the health department, answered Bright.
“I want to vaccinate anybody I can vaccinate,” Cribbs responded. She said she wants vaccines to be administered safely, efficiently and urgently. “We are moving as quickly as we can and our limitations are set by the guidelines,” she repeated.
JP Glenn Redding said people want to know when will they find out when they can get their vaccination.
Cribbs said the public is calling the hospital with that same question. She said names and phone numbers are being taken. She said the hospital will call them when it knows when and where they can get a vaccination.
Cribbs said she has been told by a health department official that when the public phase begins, the health department will roll out that information. Pharmacies will also be involved in that push, she believes.
Redding noted the governor’s announcement earlier in the day included changes in the roll out schedule.
The hopeful timeline the governor mentioned, Phase 1-B would begin in February. That includes people who are 70 and older, as well as frontline essential workers, such as: Teachers and school staff, food and agricultural workers, fire fighters/police not in 1-A, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, child care workers, US postal service workers and essential government workers (including legislators).
County and city workers need to be highly prioritized, said Milum. “If they are quarantined and can’t answer to an ice storm, then we are in big, big trouble, so somebody is failing us as a county!”
Cribbs answered to that. In that first subset of vaccine received the city fire and police chiefs and the county sheriff were notified to send to the hospital any of their workers who want the vaccine.
JP Bryan Snavely asked how many people were voluntarily getting the vaccine.
Bright said among health care workers 60% have been vaccinated.
A lot of this is education and dispelling myths. Seeing coworkers who have been vaccinated doing well will encourage people to get the vaccine, Bright said.