Vaccines rolling out to area hospitals

By Mike Genet

Some metro area hospitals received their first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week, though such distribution has not been across the board, and it will be at least several more weeks before vaccine doses are available to the general public.

Truman Medical Centers, Jackson County’s safety net hospital with locations at Lakewood and Hospital Hill, received its first shipment Monday and started to inoculate employees. Saint Luke’s East in Lee’s Summit reported its first employee vaccination on Thursday, also from Missouri’s first wave of shipments. 

On the Kansas side of the metro area, the University of Kansas Medical Health System and hospitals in the HCA Midwest and Saint Luke’s systems received shipments from that state’s initial wave of vaccines.

“We don’t know exactly how much we’ll get the first week,” Lynette Wheeler, chief operating officer at TMC Lakewood, said Monday while updating the Jackson County Legislature. “They have delineated staff who come in regular contact in the treatment of COVID patients to receive the vaccine first. This includes support staff, doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists.”

Wheeler and Bridgette Shaffer, director of the Jackson County Health Department, said that, for security reasons, they’re not privy to other organizations’ schedules to receive the vaccine.

Missouri’s first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine had about 51,000 doses, and Shaffer said she believes 38 sites across the state were receiving vaccines this week.

Chris Hamele, spokesperson for HCA Midwest, parent company of Centerpoint Medical Center, said they anticipate Centerpoint will receive a shipment next week from Missouri’s wave of the Moderna vaccine, after that treatment receives emergency federal approval. 

Eric Hoffman, spokesperson for St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs, also said they anticipate receiving a Moderna shipment next week. As of Friday, the first employees for Prime Healthcare, St. Mary’s parent company, scheduled to receive the vaccine Dec. 28 at St. Joseph Medical Center.

Like other hospitals, Hoffman said, “We are prioritizing administration of the vaccine to frontline caregivers to ensure we can safely continue caring for patients while managing the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

In general, Missouri’s tiered system for administering vaccinations had front-line health-care workers and care facility residents as part of tier 1-A, with high-risk populations and essential workers in tier 1-B, Shaffer said.  

She said they’re still waiting for official guidelines regarding tiers 2 and 3. 

“There’s still a lot of unknowns,” Shaffer said. “We don’t have exact dates on when we’ll be able to order supplies and start administering” shots.

“Things are changing rapidly with the state as far as what falls under which tier.”

CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains have been contracted to administer vaccines to long-term care and senior living facilities, and that effort generally is expected to start next week.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots over about a three-week period. 

Steven Stites, chief medical officer for the KU Medical Health System, said no matter how quickly the vaccine gets distributed and administered and whenever one happens to receive the shot, it’s important to still practice the pillars of masks, social distance and hand sanitation for several months.

He compared it to playing both good offense and defense against the coronavirus. 

“You can’t take your mask off until we make sure that the prevalence in society is lower and we’ve had enough people vaccinated,” Stites said during a KU Medical briefing this week. “You’ve had the vaccine, but you can still spread it.” 

With the mask, he said, “It has no place to jump. That’s how it dies out.”