When the first members of the general public started receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations earlier this week, it wasn’t without hiccups.
Warrick County Health Department Director Aaron Franz said there were several problems with the state’s plan to open vaccinations to residents 80 years of age and older that came to fruition at the end of last week. He said the county was informed at the beginning of last week that they would get doses of the Moderna vaccine to deliver to front line workers, but by Wednesday that plan shifted to include the first elderly members of the public.
Then, Franz said Warrick County only received 300 doses of the 360 vaccinations planned to be given at the location each week several days later than expected. But things only got worse when the state’s scheduling system listed the location of the vaccination clinic wrong and began scheduling appointments for Monday when the site wasn’t planned to open until Tuesday.
“We have a mess on our hands,” he said.
Ultimately, Franz said because the scheduling is done through the Indiana Department of Health, he had no way to reach out to those who scheduled appointments at times unavailable or who were given the wrong address for the clinic. Those appointments could be rescheduled, but he said there was no way for the state’s health department to provide a list of individuals who had scheduled appointments before the system was updated.
“We don’t know who they are so we can’t call them to tell them,” he said.
Franz said the Warrick County Health Department was already facing staffing shortages and made a plan with Deaconess to utilize the Express Clinic in Boonville as the county’s vaccination clinic. While the plan for 360 doses a week doesn’t seem high, he said it’s still straining resources.
“Right now we’re just trying to keep our heads above water,” he said.
While there are a lot of issues, Franz was hopeful looking ahead. He said while there were initial hiccups with the state’s scheduling system, that system will help mitigate issues pertaining to unused vaccines.
With reports coming from across the country that doses of the vaccine were at risk of spoiling because they were thawed without ensuring that they would be used, Franz said the state’s scheduling system will allow each site to know exactly how many doses they need.
“Once you know how much you’re giving, you know how much to draw each day,” he said.
However, Franz said it only matters if people sign-up and get both doses of the vaccine. He said there have been issues with people turning down the vaccine when it becomes available for them.
Whether people are concerned about the vaccine or aren’t convinced it’s necessary is unknown, but Franz said many people just seem to be uninterested in participating. He said that lack of participation is a continued challenge as communities move forward.
Ultimately, Franz said the state is already seeing problems with low participation numbers from the general public when it comes to contact tracing. He echoed concerns that it has become increasingly difficult to get people to respond to contract tracing calls.
“There’s a lot of people that just don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I think a lot of people are weary.”
Now, the state is cutting back their efforts by limiting how many times a staffer will call an individual for contract tracing without an answer. Indiana Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box noted in the weekly address on Wednesday, Jan. 6, that 60% of non-household close contacts fail to respond to repeated calls, texts or other outreach.
Box said contact tracing is critical and is becoming more important as the number of cases statewide has grown exponentially since November.
“As we ramp up vaccine efforts we have looked very closely at the best way to use our resources,” she said. “Repeated outreach to individuals who are not interested in responding takes resources away from those who would like the contact.”
Box said there has been an increase in the number of people possible to be contacted as the department rolls out an online interview option. So, she said the state decided to pull back on efforts to reach out to individuals who don’t respond to calls for contact tracing and will no longer make outbound calls for contract tracing.
“That being said, it is still crucial that close contacts learn of their exposure so they can take the appropriate steps to quarantine, monitor for symptoms and get tested,” she said. “Let me be clear, we are not giving up on contact tracing and notifying people who are close contacts. They will still receive an initial text message and have resources and guidance available to them.”
Box said local health departments will continue their efforts and those notified of a positive test will be asked to reach out to close contacts as well.
“These changes will allow us to redirect some of our contact tracers to help answer calls related to registering for the vaccine,” she said. “These changes should not significantly impact our contract tracing, but they will provide needed support as more Hoosiers become eligible for the vaccine.”
Franz said it’s difficult to say what would be the right course of action for contact tracing, but, like in many issues in our world today, people are divided about participation in contact tracing and getting a vaccine.
“I think we’re just in a really odd spot with how people feel right now,” he said.
In the end, he said it’s clear that maintaining the volume of calls was not only difficult for small county health departments, but possibly not helpful.
“Maintaining it wasn’t going to help,” he said. “People aren’t answering.”
Warrick County residents eligible for the vaccine can schedule an appointment by visiting ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211 for assistance. For information about Warrick County’s vaccinations visit https://warrickcounty.gov/warrick-county-covid-19-info/.