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Best bet to get vaccine?

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Even more so than what time do the Chiefs play in the Super Bowl, the most common questions around the metro area are “When can I get a vaccine shot?” or “What do I have to do to get a shot?”

Truman Medical Centers has asked citizens to call its 404-CARES line – and keep calling if need be – to set up appointments, based on availability and how far along the distribution plan they have gotten. The Jackson County Health Department for several weeks has encouraged citizens to sign up for an eventual vaccination by way of an online survey, then wait to set up an appointment when their tier – based on need and risk – is announced.

Bobby Bell, who played his entire 12-year career with the Chiefs and made it to two Super Bowls and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recently got his COVID-19 vaccination at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City. [Photo courtesy of Truman Medical Centers]

In both cases, though, like many places across the country, doses are in short supply and lag far behind demand. While health-care providers want doses, they’re also asking for citizens’ patience right now. According to the state of Missouri’s dashboard, nearly 49,000 doses had been issued in Jackson County through Tuesday. The county Health Department, which combined with TMC has given about half those doses, says more than 130,000 people have signed up through the online survey, but the Health Department did not receive any doses to administer this week.

“Our limiting factor right now is not our capacity,” Charlie Shields, president/CEO of TMC, told county legislators this week, adding that TMC could handle up to 2,500 doses a day at its Hospital Hill and Lakewood campuses and one-time events around the community – if it had the supply. “Our limiting factor is how much vaccine we have.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson this week announced an adjusted distribution plan for the state’s current allocation of about 76,000. Select hospitals around the state will receive about 53 percent of those doses as “high throughput vaccinators” for targeted metro areas. Truman Medical Centers was among those selected for this week and the third week of February (and Liberty and North Kansas City hospitals are handling Northland residents those weeks), which Shields said means about 5,000 doses in a week, while HCA Midwest and the Saint Luke’s system will receive doses for the second and fourth weeks of February.

The best option for Jackson County residents hoping to schedule through TMC, and who fall under Phase 1B, Tier 2 – those 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions such as compromised immune systems – is the 404-CARES line. No matter where or what, walk-ins for vaccines are not recorded.

Spokesperson Leslie Carto said TMC is working to boost the number of schedulers handling calls.

“We understand that it can be frustrating to get a busy signal or put on hold, but we ask for patience as we attempt to vaccinate as many patients, community members, first responders as we possibly can,” Carto said. “We’ll also be bringing the vaccine to patients and the community in disproportionately affected areas of the community. Those appointments are arranged with our community partners.”

HCA Midwest, which includes Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence and Lee’s Summit Medical Center, had not announced locations and other logistics as of Wednesday morning, as the hospital group continues to work out details with partnering organizations and agencies, a spokesperson said.

Saint Luke’s says there is no list to sign up for vaccinations, as the hospital system will contact patients when it’s time to schedule an appointment. If one has the opportunity to get vaccinated before the hospital calls, though, a person should take advantage of that, the hospital says.

Statewide plans

For about 23 percent of the doses in Missouri’s distribution plan, Parson announced a series of nine mass vaccination clinics for next week to be administered by the National Guard and the Department of Health and Senior Services, designed to reach people in more rural areas. In all, the state plans 27 such sites, with teams returning to a site in 21 days for second doses. State officials say these plans are the best way right now to fairly distribute the vaccine around the state.

For Kansas City area residents, the closest such clinic is Friday at the First Baptist Church in Clinton. It’s also one of just three mass clinic sites with appointment openings (as of Wednesday morning). Check online at covidvaccine.mo.gov/events for details.

“Our plan continues to remain focused on saving lives and fair distribution ensure accessibility no matter where in the state you live,” Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said in a release. “We believe this approach will help safely get vaccines in arms throughout the state as efficiently as possible.”

Under the state’s plan, 8 percent of doses will be allocated to local public health agencies, and another 8 percent will be received by federally qualified health centers. The remaining eight percent will go to any other enrolled providers, or community providers requesting the vaccine. 

St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs has not been listed as part of plans for the two largest allocations but would fall under possible “community providers.” That hospital has not announced any public vaccination plans.

President Biden’s administration announced that next week it will start sending weekly vaccine shipments to retail pharmacies. Initially, at about 1 million doses a week going out to states based on population, that means about 20,000 going to Missouri. Exact pharmacy locations that will receive vaccine doses have not yet been announced, though it will give citizens another option for a vaccine appointment, depending where they fall in the state's current tier.

So far, pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens have, as planned, been concentrating on shots for residents and staff and long-term care facilities.

The city of Independence says it plans to distribute vaccinations once the state reaches Phase 2, and it will use space at Independence Center for COVID testing and vaccine clinics.