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DOH explains why the vaccine rollout has been so uncertain; providers explain the impact on patients

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 5:48 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Dealing with the pandemic has had its hit and misses, and the vaccine rollout is no different.

Your News Leader has been covering the vaccine rollout since North Dakota received its first doses in the state.

At every vaccination clinic, provider after provider would say they they didn’t know when the next event would take place because they had to wait for allocations from the state and federal government.

But, if providers don’t know what to expect, it makes it harder for the public to know when they can get a vaccine.

Staff at Thrifty White Pharmacy are tasked with filling all their normal prescriptions-- on top of keeping up with an ever-changing COVID-19 vaccination schedule.

“It was a little unorganized at first,” said Thrifty White Pharmacist Julie Jacobson.

The pharmacists are allotted a different number of doses each week from the federal government.

“Typically we can put in our order Friday. It gets finalized Monday sometime. And then, it would get shipped and then we would potentially get it like Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,” Jacobson said.

Julie Jacobson says this makes it difficult to plan vaccine clinics for patients.

“All the information is so last minute. We can’t do anything and set up any appointments until we have that information finalized,” Jacobson said.

Like Thrifty White, the Department of Health relies on the federal government for its shipments. Meaning, they run into the same problems. And, it adds another medium for health care providers relying on the state to go through. If providers anticipate the wrong amount of doses or shipment times, that means patients could end up with a canceled appointment.

“We really don’t know how much vaccine we’re going to get in the state until the week before,” said North Dakota Department of Health Immunization Director Molly Howell.

The federal government tells the DOH how many doses it can order for the following week from the CDC. The Health Department must decide which providers get the vaccine and how many doses each provider will be allotted.

“When we were in phase 1A, we were allocating doses to providers based on the number of health care workers they had or the number of long-term care residents they needed to vaccinate,” Howell said.

But, allocations for phase 1B look a little different.

“We’ve been allocating toward the county population for 65 and older. And then, breaking down the vaccine by the number of providers in that county based on the size of the provider,” Howell said.

It gets even more complicated. Because the state has so many providers enrolled to give out vaccines, there’s not enough to go around. So, the DOH distributes doses on a three-week rotation schedule between health systems, public health and pharmacies.

The DOH hopes things will become more reliable in the spring.

Howell says she’s hopeful the schedule will be become more reliable by March. She says once people 18 and older can get vaccinated and the state is receiving more doses, the DOH will be able to distribute a consistent number of vaccines to every provider, every week.

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