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Patience Urged Amid Covid Vaccine Rollout

Michael Donohue was one of several county officials who spoke during a Covid vaccine webinar held by the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce Jan. 22.

By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.

COURT HOUSE – The Cape May County Chamber of Commerce ran a webinar Jan. 22 that tried to dispel some of the confusion surrounding the Covid vaccination effort. 

In many ways, the webinar succeeded, but dispelling the uncertainty does not mean the public got the answers they wanted. County officials, more than once, called for continued patience. 

County Commissioners Leonard Desiderio and Will Morey, co-chairs of the county Recovery Task Force, Michael Donohue, the county’s Covid liaison, Kevin Lare, acting county administrator, and Kevin Thomas, county public health coordinator, took turns trying to explain a process that suffers from logistical problems, along with being seriously undersupplied with the vaccine.  

The greatest impediments to a more robust vaccination program lay outside the county’s control. 

Desiderio made clear that the Board of County Commissioners is committed to a goal of vaccinating “as many people as we can by Memorial Day,” calling it the board’s “number one priority.”  

Morey said there is “light at the end of the tunnel that is not just an oncoming train.” Both emphasized that they understand what it takes to keep the county’s seasonal economy going. The county will be ready, they said, when the vaccine “spigot opens.” 

Availability 

The presenters acknowledged that the mostserious impediment to the vaccination goals is the availability of the vaccine.  

Calling the pandemic “the greatest health emergency in living memory,” Donohue said the county’s vaccination site, at the Avalon Community Hall, is running smoothly and efficiently. The problem is the county is receiving between 400 and 500 doses per week, even though it has the capacity to administer that many per day. 

“Confusion starts with the registration,” Donohue said. He explained that it was critically important that the public register through the state’s online system. “Registration is not an appointment,” he added.  

Donohue noted that those who register may receive an email informing them they are eligible, according to the state’s phased eligibility criteria, “but eligibility is not an appointment,” Donohue emphasized, again. An email that tells an individual to make an appointment does not guarantee an appointment.  

“An appointment is tied to a dose of the vaccine,” Donohue said repeatedly. If there is not a dose available when someone tries to make an appointment, the attempt at an appointment will fail.  

He also clarified that walk-ins will not be vaccinated. “You must have an appointment,” he said. 

The state Jan. 25 planned to launch a call center to help those who do not have internet access pre-register to receive the vaccine, according to a release (http://bit.ly/3iLjqqf). The number, 855-568-0545, is expected to operate daily, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  

Where to Go 

In seeking an appointment, the public can easily be confused by the patchwork of providers administering the vaccine.  

The county Health Department receives about 400 doses in a week, and appointments are made for the Avalon site until the doses have all been accounted for. The county is prepared to open other sites when the allocation of vaccine warrants such action.  

The ShopRite pharmacies were designated by the state as vaccine administration sites. They receive a separate allocation of vaccine and do not come under county Health Department control.  

Currently, the county’s two ShopRite pharmacies, in Rio Grande and Marmora, are booked weeks in advance. Although the state’s email telling individuals to make an appointment will include a link for an appointment at one of the ShopRite sites, no appointments are made without an available vaccine. Currently, the ShopRite vaccination site says the schedules are full. 

Separate amounts of the vaccine are being shipped to the six state mega-sitesthe closest to Cape May County being the Atlantic City Convention Center.  

A check of the appointment system at the time this was written showed no availability at any site within 50 miles of Court House, including the mega sites. 

Another supply of the vaccine coming into the county goes directly to the CVS and Walgreens Pharmacy Partnership charged with vaccinating long-term care residents and staff. This is not open to the general public. 

With multiple ways in which vaccine comes into the county, no one county official, including those at the health department, has oversight of the distribution and administration of doses. 

This is where the renewed call for patience comes in. The vaccination effort is dependent on a massive distribution task filled with logistical challenges.  

The vaccine is coming to the county, but the allocations are too small to accommodate the demand. It is what Morey called an “evolving and changing environment.”  

Several factors work in favor of a greater supply of the vaccine. 

As the federal government works out the difficulties that hampered adequate supply from reaching the states, distribution to the county should improve.  

Donohue also pointed to the ongoing program at long-term care locations. As that program delivers second shots to residents and staff, the state’s need to reserve doses for that purpose will diminish, increasing the share of the state allocation that can be distributed more broadly.  

All the evidence points to an increased flow of the vaccine in the coming weeks. Yet, for the most immediate future, the doses allocated to the county will not be sufficient to provide shots for those who fall in the eligibility parameters announced by the state.  

The message from county officials during the webinar is that “we are ready to go” as soon as the vaccine distribution increases. Meanwhile, the county will continue to efficiently administer what doses it receives.  

“We will open up appointments as we get the weekly doses from the state,” Donohue said, adding that those appointment opportunities will close quickly until the allotment increases.  

Jan. 24 press release by the county Health Department noted that 8,098 doses of the vaccine were administered in the county (http://bit.ly/3ogyKwg).  

Those wishing to watch the webinar can find a recording on the chamber’s YouTube, at https://bit.ly/39du6ej. 

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

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