For Dr. Dale Owen, CEO of local independent organization Tryon Medical Partners, the Covid-19 vaccine rollout has been a stressful experience. It’s also been a waiting game, with several service providers unable to assist.
Late last year, Tryon bought deep-freezer room to store the vaccines. In mid-December, hospitals began administering the state’s first Covid-19 vaccines. Tryon applied for the vaccines in January and was approved later that month.
Vaccines, on the other hand, did not arrive until the last week of February, almost two months after the launch began.
“It’s really a race to vaccinate so that we don’t develop mutations that make these vaccines ineffective,” Owen said. “The whole health-care community needs to be part of it.”
Owen expressed his dissatisfaction with the federal and state governments’ handling of the process. Tryon received 600 doses this week, 400 from the county and 200 from the state. Another 300 doses from the county have been scheduled for the following week.
It is insufficient. Owen sees issues arising as vaccines become more widely available, even in a month’s time. Three vaccines have now been licensed for emergency use in the United States, totaling hundreds of millions of doses.
Owen explained that hospital systems, which have been given first priority in vaccine delivery, are working hard but lack the resources to manage the volume on their own as quickly as is needed.
The situation has been compared to a battle, according to Steve Lawler, president of the North Carolina Healthcare Association. According to him, the state requested that hospitals take the lead because they have more capacity to scale up to mass vaccination locations. It isn’t the hospitals’ primary focus.
According to Lawler, the feat was costly, with some programs costing $500,000 every few months to run the vaccination centers.
“Hospitals flexed up and applied money that would have been allocated to a different clinical environment to get this done,” Lawler said. “It was an honor to be a part of it. It was the right decision.”
North Carolina state treasurer Dale Folwell has spoken out on the need to extend vaccine delivery to other organizations, including primary care physicians, pediatricians, pharmacies, and health departments.
Patients are accustomed to getting vaccines at these sites, according to Folwell. He noted that while Covid-19 vaccines are not yet available for infants, pediatricians already have the knowledge to administer them to other patients.
Folwell believes that the existing vaccine process needs to be overhauled. Leaders must reevaluate what is and is not working. He argues that failing to do so would result in more deaths, as well as increased illiteracy as schools are closed and increased poverty as a result of the economic downturn. Folwell is helping these other vaccine distributors to fight for a place in the vaccine supply chain.
He acknowledges that certain factors, such as a lack of availability, have made the process more difficult, but he doesn’t see this as an excuse. Health-care professionals and officials, according to Folwell, have known for months that some of these problems will emerge.
Another problem, according to Owen, is the time it takes for vaccines to arrive, which can take up to a week. He stated that they would deliver within a day, with additional providers on standby to manage them as soon as possible.