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Monday, July 15, 2024

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Covid Update: More Vaccination Sites, Few Appointments

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By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – Covid case numbers are better this week (Feb. 9-15) than they were since the second wave began, in November 2020.  

There were 234 new resident cases added to the active case log, but there were also 245 individuals removed from the active rolls and off quarantine. The result is that the active case count declined.  

The 372 individuals on the active case list represent the lowest number of active cases since mid-November.   

There were six Covid-related fatalities this week, making the total 12 for the first two weeks of February and 175 resident deaths since the pandemic began.   

While the Covid fatalities in February appear to be at a pace to end lower than what the county experienced in December (33) and January (25), it is a number that equals the fatalities for the three months from August through October. 

The numbers are better, but only in relation to the numbers the county experienced during the second wave. Improvement does not equal safety, especially for older or health-compromised individuals. 

That realization is what continues to fuel the frustrations with the vaccine rollout. There does not appear to be a single point of authority, and there is no single source of reliable and comprehensive information.  

Perhaps the most frustrating point in the rollout effort is that the public, despite various dashboards, does not seem to have transparency into the program. 

Just over one million first doses and almost 370,000 second doses were administered in New Jersey, according to the state dashboard. Close to 20,000 doses were administered in Cape May County – the actual number being 19,948, combining first and second doses. 

The dashboard also indicates that the efficiency of administering the available vaccine improved, with 65% of the doses distributed to the federal Pharmacy Program being administered. This is the program that is running vaccine clinics at long-term care facilities.  

The dashboard also shows that 77% of the doses distributed to “point of distribution sites” were administered. 

That leaves almost 450,000 distributed doses that were not administered. According to the New York Times, the percentage of doses administered puts New Jersey 28th among the 50 states in terms of the efficiency with which the state is using available doses.  

The public has no way to know if the reasons why so many doses are not administered are practical and sound, or if they are an indication of mismanagement of a confusing process. 

For New Jersey, no data exists on what the various “point of distribution” sites are, how much each is getting and to whom they are administering doses. With various appointment scheduling systems, the public can’t know where to invest their frantic efforts to gain an appointment. 

The state Department of Health’s scheduling system, one that appeared at the start to be a one-stop location for scheduling any available appointment, only handles appointments for certain sites.  

The state mega-sites have their own appointment scheduling processes, as do the ShopRite Pharmacies, as well as other pharmacies being added as vaccination sites. 

Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged, in a Feb. 12 press conference, that the new vaccination outlets at CVS and Rite Aid opened and filled their appointment availability in two days.  

They opened as sites as part of a federal partnership, received their own doses, and had their available capacity filled immediately. 

The problem the vaccine program seems to be trying to solve is increasing the capacity to administer shots. The problem causing frustration is not capacity, but supply and a level playing field for appointment scheduling. 

Anyone who visited the county vaccination site in Avalon can see the site can administer more doses if the supply were available. The county is ready to open new sites when supply warrants that action. 

Instead, the system of players is expanding, and with it, there’s an increase in sites and appointment scheduling processes. This becomes an advantage for the more aggressive, more assertive, and more computer savvy. 

Many elderly, and thus vulnerable individuals, are managing, sometimes with help from others, to get registered, but find themselves unable to navigate the appointment-making maze. Many of them resort to calling a hotline number that is so oversubscribed, they can’t reach a human being. 

Health Department officials who label the crisis a supply problem are correct, but it is also a management problem, one that can easily penalize the most vulnerable in the population.  

The management problem needs attention. State and federal officials appear to be hoping increased supply will eventually float all boatswhich may take time. 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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