As in many rural areas, not everyone in Park County is getting vaccinated for the novel coronavirus right away.
Cody Regional Health pharmacy director Doug Wenke said about 40% of the workers have opted to get the vaccine. Public Health Nurse Bill Crampton said Park County Public Health has administered 284 vaccines themselves between Cody and Powell, but even that has been a challenge.
“We’ve been faced with a little bit of resistance,” Crampton said. “People just aren’t sure. It’s not that they’re not ever going to get vaccines. As soon as they make up their minds, we’ll get them on a list and get them vaccinated, but this is going to take a little bit of time as we go through this.”
Because the list of people in Tier 1a who want to get the vaccine has largely been exhausted, Park County has been expanding the list of people who can get vaccinated. Initially focused on the frontline health care workers, Crampton said Public Health has moved past those in the field to get vaccines to others, including law enforcement and firefighters. Teachers are on the docket as well, pending a time for Public Health to come in and administer the shots on Wednesday, a team headed to Meeteetse with 175 doses to vaccinate people there.
“We’re going to vaccinate the whole damn town,” Crampton said. “The reason for that is they’re 30 miles away, many of the people can’t always drive to Cody and we can’t go down for half a dozen teachers and government workers and the first responders and then go back for the seniors. It makes more sense just to get it out and get it done for a contained setting like Meeteetse.”
Coordinating the distribution of the novel coronavirus vaccine is a heavy logistical undertaking. Scheduling times, making sure space is available for social distancing and observation, and timing the thawing of wthe vaccines to get them ready for use have proved challenging for public health officials across the country.
President Donald Trump said he wanted 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of 2020, but that hasn’t happened. Bloomberg News reports that 4.73 million doses have been given as of January 5.
Some of those same challenges have hit our local area. Cody Regional Health is the only facility in the Big Horn Basin that can store the Pfizer vaccine, which requires super-cold temperatures. Once open, the vaccines don’t last long and that creates scheduling challenges.
“There are five doses per vial and once the vial is punctured, and especially the one from Pfizer, we have 5-6 hours to use it,” Crampton said. “We’re trying to plan as closely as we can. Once that vial is punctured, it’s all dedicated to the people available and no leftovers.”
Residents in long-term care facilities have yet to start receiving vaccines despite an outbreak last month killing three residents at Rocky Mountain Manor in Powell. Crampton said that’s due to a contract Walgreens holds with the federal government, giving the company administration rights to long-term care facility residents. Crampton, though, said Public Health may have to take matters into their own hands to speed up the process.
“If we have to wait too much longer we’re going to end up having to do it ourselves, just because they’re an at-risk population and we don’t want to wait too long,” he said.
In Powell, Crampton said Public Health started vaccinating seniors, mostly age 70 and older, on Thursday. In Cody, plans are being finalized to host similar vaccination events. Teachers throughout the county will also start receiving vaccinations soon, though scheduling a day has yet to occur.
To aid the process, Public Health has set up a website to help people sign up for a time to get the vaccine.
First, check the lists to see if you meet the criteria of tier 1a or 1b – generally, health care workers, first responders, people over the age of 70, teachers and daycare providers, grocery store and other food supply chain workers, and delivery drivers likely to have prolonged public contact, among others. Then, fill out a form explaining the reason why you are eligible and providing a contact number. Print and fill out a vaccine consent form and bring it with you on the appropriate day. Be sure to check the site regularly to see when an event comes available in Cody.
Crampton said there was not a date yet planned for the vaccine to be available to the general public, though he hoped it would be in late April or early May, but that is “just a guess.”
Visit the website to check if you meet the eligibility requirements and fill out the forms at parkcounty.us/CoronaVirus.html.