COVID-19 vaccines

Jackson OBGYN Dr. Maura Lofaro receives the vaccine for COVID-19 on December 16 in the clinic at St. John’s Health. Teton County received about 900 doses of the vaccine in the first round of distribution that week, which were administered to medical personnel throughout the community.

Around the country, people waiting for vaccines have been turned away when supply dries up. Elderly folks thinking they were going to a drive-thru clinic ended waiting outside in the cold.

The New York Times reported that while many clinics are successfully delivering COVID-19 vaccines, a host of struggles are affecting others. In Teton County, the atmosphere couldn’t be a bigger contrast to those horror stories.

Health care workers have been all smiles at vaccine clinics, and the movement of patients has, for the most part, been a model of efficiency.

“We’ve been able to distribute and deliver the vaccine to people as soon as we’ve had it,” Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said Saturday.

As of the end of Wednesday, the last day before the long holiday weekend, Teton County had administered 1,160 doses, 107% of its allotment. The county has received 975 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 100 of the Moderna version, but extra doses in some vials of the Pfizer vaccine stretched the supply.

That progress is lightyears better than across the rest of Wyoming and the nation. The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed set a goal of administering 20 million doses by the end of 2020. Instead, just over 13 million doses had been delivered by Saturday, and 4.2 million had been administered, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine tracking dashboard.

With only a third of available vaccines being administered, the rollout has been significantly rockier than the federal government predicted.

“That number is lower than what we hoped for,” Monsef Slaoui, the top adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said at a Wednesday briefing.

In Wyoming, the numbers are only slightly more encouraging. The Wyoming Department of Health’s website says 21,300 doses have been delivered, and just 7,829 have been administered, though the data can be up to 72 hours old. The state’s 36.76% rate of administering available vaccines is slightly higher than the nation’s (32.33%), but it lags Teton County’s 107%.

Riddell said that could be in part because of Teton County residents’ enthusiasm for the vaccine. He didn’t know Teton County’s overall acceptance rate, but cited long-term care facility residents: Of those offered the vaccine, 94% took it.

When vaccinations started, St. John’s Health CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre said between 80% and 90% of his staff were opting in, and the Teton County Health Department said its first priority groups had a similar acceptance rate. That’s well higher than the 60% reported by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle for Laramie County priority groups.

A higher acceptance rate cuts down the amount of administrative time spent finding new patients.

“It takes time to move down the list and invite the next person and the next person and the next person,” Riddell said.

Vaccinating the next priority groups may end up being slower, he said. The state Health Department announced the 1b priority groups Wednesday, and they include people over 70, teachers, mental health professionals and social workers, and other critical industries that cannot maintain social distancing.

Public health coordinator Rachael Wheeler told the Jackson Hole Daily that finding everyone in those categories will be harder because more businesses are involved and many older folks are retired, so they can’t be contacted through an employer. However, she said, the Health Department will rely on its community contacts to find eligible residents.

The CDC estimated that phase 1a had about 24 million people nationwide, and it says 1b will have roughly 49 million. With a larger population to vaccinate, 1b might take longer, and it will likely start slowly in Teton County.

After receiving 1,075 total doses in December, the county is slated to get 800 doses of the Moderna shot for new vaccinations in January. It will also be given the follow-up doses for anyone who got their first shot.

Riddell wishes the county could get more, and he urged people to contact state officials to let them know about vaccine enthusiasm in Teton County. Based on December’s numbers, the county should have no problem administering the ones it receives in January quickly, though Riddell wishes for the opposite problem.

“I would much rather be in a position where we had too much vaccine and we’re struggling to get it out to people,” he said, rather than “a position where we are just sitting here twiddling our thumbs waiting for more vaccine to arrive.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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