As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread around the country, it has become increasingly clear that the United States’ way out of this pandemic is tied to vaccination. After nearly a year of lockdowns, quarantine, and restrictions, things have only gotten worse.
So when it was announced that vaccines were going to be available to specific groups of the public, local folks like Randy Short naturally wanted to know how to get one.
Short, who is 75 years old and has a history of lung issues, and his wife Mickey, 78 and a cancer survivor, had been told that it would be a serious problem if they contracted Covid-19.
With Mono and Inyo counties announcing that they would be expanding vaccinations to those 75 and over, the Shorts figured that they would receive some sort of notification about when they’d be getting vaccinated.
But they heard nothing. Calls to the local health department led to a call to their doctor, who hadn’t heard anything about setting up vaccinations, and calls to the Veterans Affairs office (Randy served in Vietnam) yielded more dead ends.
For Short, the frustration lay in the planning; with months to figure out how to do rollout a vaccine, why has there been lag time in arranging shots? The State of California has lagged behind many other states in getting shots in arms for a variety of reasons, including people turning down the vaccine, a rigid prioritization process, and a large general population.
Short referenced a situation in Ukiah, in which a freezer
failure left the local government with two hours to administer its stock of 600 vaccines. After organizing a team of medical professionals to administer the shots, the government put out a notice to the community that they had vaccines available and were able to administer the entire stock before the two hours were up.
If you can make that happen in two hours, how come you can pout a priotization list together in nine months?
The Sheet spoke with Short on the morning of Tuesday, January 12, the same morning that both Inyo and Mono County Supervisors met for their respective regular meetings to hear updates from health officials about vaccine rollouts.
Mono County Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler said at the Mono Supervisors meeting that the county has nearly finished with the entirety of Tier 1a vaccinations and is beginning to move into the 1b, which includes those ages 75+, food and agriculture workers, education and childcare professionals, and emergency service personnel not already covered.
Part of what is enabling Mono County to move forward with its vaccine campaign is the expected arrival of nearly 3,000 doses of vaccine, the result of communication by Wheeler to the state that previous allocations have proven insufficient – that we’re ready and hungry for more.
Beginning next week, and pending the arrival of the new doses, Wheeler said the county will attempt to have clinics 4-5 days/week in Mammoth Lakes as well as in communities in the unincorporated parts of the county.
“It is a huge game changer for us in Public Health and for the health and well-being of citizens in the county,” Wheeler said of the vaccine boon. If the county continues to receive a steady and sizeable amount of vaccine from the state, the vaccine may become available to the general public at a much earlier time than in other parts of the state.
Residents are encouraged to pre-register on the county’s vaccine portal, accessible through the Covid-19 page, at https://coronavirus.monocounty.ca.gov/pages/vaccinations. The 211 nurses hotline will also help people to get registered if need be, with a dedicated phone line for vaccine registration in the works.
“Our goal is we’d like to be in phase 2-3 if not completed by the end of spring,” Wheeler said, “Hopefully I can secure enough vaccine commitment from the state.”
“We hope to be ahead of the curve or the trend because we are ready to vaccinate,” he continued.
When asked if non-county residents who work in Mono County would be eligible to receive the vaccine as part of the tier system, Wheeler said “Absolutely,” stating that county paramedics who live in Nevada have already been given their first dose.
Wheeler also said that county residents will be eligible for vaccine clinics all over the county, not just within their own communities. If someone from Walker cannot make it to a local clinic, they can sign up for a clinic in Bridgeport or Mammoth Lakes on another day.
At the Inyo County Supervisors meeting Tuesday, county officials announced the launch of a vaccination page on the county website, with information about the vaccine, process, and how to register for shots. Residents are advised not to call the county Department of Health and Human services hoping to get a name on a list, as it is currently swamped with other responsibilities.
One of the key issues that the county is working through is vaccinating communities in the more outlying areas of the county. Some people can have adverse reactions to vaccines as the result of an allergy or medical complications, which necessitates having emergency medical providers on hand. This makes setting up effective mobile clinics difficult.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls,” said Supervisor Rick Pucci, “and I don’t really know what to tell ‘em … the answers people are getting are not clear. There are a ton of people who want to get on a list and get scheduled.”
Supervisor Jeff Griffiths urged residents to be patient.
Inyo County currently has 196 active Covid-19 cases, with a grand total 882 since the pandemic began. The vast majority of those cases have been recorded in the past six weeks. 27 county residents have died from the virus.
Northern Inyo Hospital held a press conference on Wedneday, January 13, in which Dr. Stacey Brown announced that the hospital would be working in tandem with Inyo County to distribute vaccines to individuals in the 1b tier; the hospital will vaccinate those 75 and older while the county will handle workers in prioritized industries.
Brown said that the hospital has targeted 1,375 individuals for the initial vaccine rollout, most of whom are already patients in the Northern Inyo Healthcare District (NIHD). He also announced that eligible Mono County residents may receive their vaccine from the hospital.
The hospital is setting up a phone line specifically to help get people registered, operating 9-4, Monday through Friday. Those looking to register for a time slot give their name and date of birth to be registered with the hospital. They are then given two appointment times, one for each injection; Pfizer vaccine is given 21 days apart, Moderna vaccine is given 28 days apart.
Brown said that supply will dictate how many vaccines are given. If there are 300 vaccines, 300 people will be scheduled. Anyone who calls after that mark will be added to a waiting list to be notified when more shots are available.
While the meeting was taking place, the state of California announced it was lowering the age restriction for Tier 1b to 65 and over, allowing for many more people to be vaccinated.
As for the realities of Covid-19, Brown said that in the twenty years he’s been working for Northern Inyo Hospital, “the number of sick people in the unit as well as the level of care they require has been the most acute I’ve seen in those 20 years.”
The Sheet spoke with Short again on Thursday morning, after the vaccine announcements from prior days. He said that Mickey had been on the phone since 8:30 a.m. trying to get a vaccine appointment. The line had been busy every time she called so far.
During the call, Mickey came into the room. She’d gotten through, and Randy stepped away from the phone to give his information to the person on the other end.
“You can’t imagine [how it feels] for somebody who’s 75 years old,” Short told The Sheet after confirming his appointments, “I mean we literally locked the gate to our place on March 13, .”