Pine County has made a start toward vaccinating residents against COVID-19, but there is a long way yet to go.
Pine County Community Health Services Administrator Samantha Lo said her department has vaccinated hundreds of people so far, and are nearly done with the top priority group, which includes health care workers, group homes residents and staff and assisted living residents and staff.
Lo said they will then move on to working with the schools, focusing on the most vulnerable staff. She estimated that there are about 750 such people in the county.
“Anybody with contact with kids: bus drivers, lunch ladies, paras, teachers – all of them,” Lo explained. “We have a lot of the logistics already in place. As soon as we get doses we can move pretty quickly. We just need the federal government to hurry up.”
Like the rest of the country, Pine County is waiting on more doses of vaccine. The vaccine is obtained from the pharmaceutical companies by the federal government, which then distributes it to the states, which pass it along to hospitals, clinics and county public health workers.
Pine County Commissioner Steve Hallan pointed out that only a tiny percentage of county residents have received the vaccine so far, and that at the current rate it would take years to vaccinate everyone.
“Even at a thousand a week, we’re looking at 30 months to get everybody vaccinated,” Hallan said “So we’re going to have to up the game, if we think we’re going to get the majority of Pine County vaccinated by the end of summer.
Lo said that second doses of the vaccine for those who already have received their first dose are either in cold storage or on the way.
“They’re allocated about a week or two ahead of time, so we don’t have all 500 second doses right now,” Lo said. “We do have the first 300 second doses that we’re going to use. They are allocated as we need them. We don’t get a double dose.”
Hallan said he has received many questions about the vaccine.
“I think, ‘When can I get my shot?’ has overtaken, ‘When can I get broadband?’ in my phone calling list,” Hallan said.
Lo said that most of the over-65 population will likely be receiving their shots of the vaccine through their local clinics, and that they will need to make an appointment so staff know how many doses of the vaccine they will need to pull out of cold storage.
“Public health has been tasked with working with schools because we’re better at going to people – so we can go set up shop at a school,” she explained. “The health care systems have now been tasked with reaching out to the over-65 population, because they already have connections with the doctors. We’re kind of dividing and conquering right now.”
Hallan said that the pressure of the pandemic is making it difficult for people to wait.
“The elderly population is getting nervous that they’re going to get passed over or something,” he said. “They’ve got nothing else to worry about. And I’m in that category. They are nervous about getting vaccinated, and [want to know]when their turn is coming. They’re patient people. They’ll wait their turn. But they certainly don’t want to miss it.”