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A Shot in the Arm

McCreary County eliminated from recent vaccine allotment as residents struggle to find COVID-19 vaccination sites.

By Eugenia Jones

It’s not easy to get a shot in the arm for McCreary Countians hoping to receive the COVID-19 vaccination at a nearby location.
Earlier this week, the ten-county Lake Cumberland District Health Department (LCDHD) announced it received a one-time allocation of 700 COVID-19 vaccines from the state and will host clinics to administer the vaccines throughout the region this week for those in Phases 1A and 1B, including ages 70 and older. Three LCDHD counties-McCreary, Cumberland, and Pulaski-received no vaccines from the one-time allotment. According to Shawn D. Crabtree, Director of LCDHD, the 700 dose allotment is surplus from the state intended for local communities and counties rather than regional vaccination hubs. Responsible for controlling where vaccines are distributed, Kentucky’s State Department for Public Health determined which counties could receive doses of vaccine from the 700 dose allotment. According to Crabtree, the Moderna vaccine is divided into minimum orders of 100 doses per order. With ten counties located in the LCDHD and only seven minimum orders available, Kentucky’s Department for Public Health eliminated three counties based on three different criteria. First, Pulaski County was eliminated because Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital serves as a regional vaccination hub and typically receives 500 doses of vaccines per week. Next, Cumberland County was eliminated based on its small population size. Finally, McCreary County was eliminated because school employees are scheduled for vaccination today-during the same week LCDHD received the 700 allotment. It should be noted as schools have resumed in-person classes, the state authorized allotments of vaccines statewide for school employees as essential workers. McCreary County School employees are the last group of school employees in the Lake Cumberland District to receive their vaccinations, and their vaccinations are not being managed through the Health Department. All other Lake Cumberland school district employees received vaccinations within the last two weeks, and their counties were not eliminated from the 700 dose allotment.
“The decision was made by the State Department for Public Health using their criteria,” Crabtree noted. “The local Health Department and school system are in no way to blame. I’m glad we got the 700 doses, but I hate it for McCreary County.”
Local physicians and pharmacists are unsure as to when they will receive vaccines for their private facilities.
Dr. John Patton with Family Medical Center in Whitley City said their practice is waiting for the state to release vaccines to private facilities. Currently, the vaccine is being released to hospitals, health departments, etc. Dr. Patton said his office is keeping a list of those wanting the vaccine. According to Patton, the list is already quite lengthy and those wishing to sign up are not required to be regular patients. Notice will be given when vaccines are received, and vaccinations will be given as long as supplies last.
Patton said three of his office staff are trained as coordinators in management of the COVID-19 vaccinations, and all nurses are qualified to give the vaccinations. The management training is extensive, and there are specific phases for distribution of the vaccine. The office has a standard medical freezer which will be stocked with COVID-19 vaccines only.
Patton said the vaccines come packaged with ten injections per vial. The clinic will do “gang scheduling” in which a small group of patients are scheduled at the same time so dosages of vaccine are not wasted after a vial is opened. If a patient does not show up as scheduled, the office will make a “back-up” call requesting another patient to come immediately for the vaccine. Those receiving the vaccine will be monitored for possible allergic reactions, and the office is equipped to handle potential reactions.
“We’re ready for the vaccine,” Dr. Patton said. “But I have no idea when it will arrive.”
Dustin Hamlin APRN with Pine Knot’s Appalachian Family Care said their facility will closely look at qualifying ages and underlying health conditions.
“We plan to generate an electronic report that identifies those patients with qualifying ages and diagnosis so we can call them to come for vaccination,” Hamlin explained. “We are continuing with a request list, but the criteria exclusion will supersede requests.”
Appalachian Family Care also plans to offer drive thru vaccinations and will recruit EMS to be on standby as patients wait and are monitored for any allergic reactions.
Like Patton, Hamlin said he has no idea when the state will approve distribution of vaccines to private facilities.
“We have joined with the Kentucky Primary Care Association in coming together as one big group of clinics for this purpose,” Hamlin noted. “We’ve also ordered a CDC approved freezer and refrigerator just for vaccines.”
Hope Primary Care in Stearns/Revelo is unsure when COVID-19 vaccines will arrive, but said they will notify the public when vaccines become available. Big South Fork Medical Center in Whitley City has completed their application to be a testing site. They are waiting for an official response to their application.
LCDHD Executive Director Crabtree indicated there has been some talk about the possibility of vaccines being released to some pharmacies in the coming weeks. However, he has no definite information. Locally, pharmacists are uncertain as to when they will receive COVID-19 vaccines. Some indicate it could be spring. Burgess Drug stated they are unable to order the vaccine at this time because it is on back order. The local Kroger Pharmacy, responsible for managing a vaccination clinic of many school employees, is still not certain when they will be able to administer to the general public.

According to local reports, several McCreary County residents in categories 1A and 1B, including those ages seventy and older, have been able to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations through Corbin Hospital.

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