After difficulty navigating a fragmented network of COVID-19 vaccine providers, local seniors will soon benefit from a county-run mobile clinic program, as well as a centralized hotline to get individuals lined up with appointments.
The program will likely target the county’s oldest residents currently facing barriers to making appointments and traveling to traditional clinics.
After weeks of discussion, the county announced Monday that the partnership will be between Twin Transit, United Way of Lewis County and Bird’s Eye Medical, a provider contracting with the county which will administer vaccines.
“Without reliable transportation, access to the internet or knowledge of how to navigate the current online appointment system, many of Lewis County’s Phase 1B, tier 1 eligible residents are unable or unaware of how to get their COVID-19 vaccines,” a press release read. “This partnership will address these major barriers by developing vaccine clinics for targeted populations in their communities within Lewis County.”
Although the state has recently ramped up its vaccination efforts, there’s still a major need to serve local residents. Lewis County Public Health Director J.P. Anderson told county commissioners that as many as one-third of vaccines administered in the county so far have been given to out-of-towners.
“I think from a pure public health perspective, we know of course everybody needs this medicine … I don’t think that on its face that’s some terrible awful thing,” he said. “But it does suggest that we need to address that and we need to pivot our strategy a little bit to ensure that our most vulnerable residents are having access to those vaccines.”
Earlier this month, officials criticized the state’s new mass vaccination sites for potentially leaving behind the state’s most vulnerable residents. The clinics — each administering hundreds of doses a day — have also siphoned some doses away from smaller providers. The goal with the county’s mobile clinics is to balance the fast, broad approach represented by mass vaccination clinics with a smaller, targeted one.
For the county’s mobile clinics, that also means narrowing the scope of who will get vaccinated.
According to Anderson, the entire 1B vaccination phase encompasses 20,000 Lewis County residents. If the county were to attempt to tackle the entire group with mobile clinics, “we would have the same sort of log jam at the front door that the state’s having right now.”
Limited vaccine supply means the mobile clinics will likely only target residents 80 and older, or even 85 and older. The clinics will also likely serve some adult family homes. While a federal program partnering with pharmacies has been tasked with vaccinating residents of long term care facilities, Anderson said the process has been delayed, with some vaccinations scheduled for months out.
Once vaccine supply increases, officials hope to run the mobile clinics five days a week.
“Nobody beats the Lewis County ground game,” Anderson said about local efforts. “I think we’re going to be able to do this because of the strength of our partnerships.”
Information on mobile clinics will be reported as it becomes available. Currently, four Lewis County vaccination providers are listed on the Department of Health’s website.