Wyoming has announced changes to its vaccination priority groups, but that doesn’t mean it has magically uncovered new vaccine doses.
Last week, the Wyoming Department of Health updated its 1b groupings, offering concurrent vaccination for vulnerable populations and some essential workers. It also released the 1c categories, which include other groupings of essential industries, the homeless and people living in a variety of congregate situations.
“Even though we may have some updates with those phases, that’s not going to make more vaccine suddenly available in large quantities,” state Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said last week.
Locally, people between 65 and 69 will start being vaccinated around mid-February alongside behavioral health care and social workers. In March, teachers and staff at the county’s schools, both public and private, will be up.
Teton County’s February vaccine allotment is set to be 2,075 doses sent in four shipments. Along with St. John’s Health, the county Health Department plans to administer between 450 and 600 first doses per week.
“Throughout giving all these new doses we also are scheduling people’s second doses,” public health coordinator Rachael Wheeler said.
The local rollout continues to be strong. According to state Health Department data, Teton County has given out more than 100% of its allotment, and administered 1,127 of its 1,275 second doses.
That 88% administration rate for second doses leads the state, which overall has a 38% rate. Deti said the second dose rate is bound to lag because the shots are delivered well before anyone actually needs them.
One worry in Teton County is that since many essential workers live in Teton Valley, Idaho, or Star Valley, the workforce is larger than the U.S. Census designated population. That could spell a slower rollout, but Wheeler said her department has been working with the state.
“We are showing them local data about our effective population, and our commuters, especially when it comes to essential workers, to show that we need more vaccine,” she said Tuesday.
Demand for the vaccine is understandably high, Wheeler said, but a continual influx of calls from individuals has overloaded staff capacity. Callers generally want to know when it will be their turn or why their particular group wasn’t higher in the priority ranking.
The local Health Department can’t do much in regard to either question. It isn’t signing up people in future groups because staff are focusing on registering those in the current groups.
As for the priority groups, the state Health Department’s Medical Ethics Committee sets them, so local officials are powerless to explain those decisions or change them.
Other vaccines are on the horizon. Johnson and Johnson’s single-shot adenovirus vaccine could receive Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization soon, which could make the rollout easier.
Until then, supply will lag demand. U.S. Health and Human Services Department data shows Teton County has close to 4,000 people ages 65 and older. Since its cumulative allotment by the end of February will be 4,350 first doses, the rollout is inevitably going to be slow due to the number of people in the eligible age group.
In a press release Tuesday, the Health Department laid out the situation in clear terms, though not ones people are likely to be happy with. Once it finishes the 1b and 1c priority groups, the department will move on to vaccinating the general public, but at current rates, that won’t start until late summer or early fall.
While everyone waits for increased distributions, “we’re just asking for people’s patience,” Wheeler said.