FAIRMONT — When Gov. Jim Justice announced state residents over 80 would be priority to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the phones at the Marion County Health Department “lit up.”
Heath department administrator Lloyd White said although county residents over 80 will be priority to receive the vaccine, the department can only get a limited number of doses at a time, forcing the distribution to be on a first come, first served basis.
“I have 100 doses, it is super, super stressful for everyone, so we had to do it on a first come, first served basis,” White said Monday. “Our phones have been literally off the hook as well as emails when the governor made the announcement, knowing we had a limited amount of doses.
“I know there are a lot of folks who want it, and I wish I had extras but I just don’t.”
White said that like most health departments throughout the state, Marion County is getting vaccines from the Army National Guard, who notifies him how many vaccine doses are available and at what times.
“We’re with the National Guard Army, so I left the office and don’t know when I’m getting it, how much I am getting and who I am getting it for,” White said. “We have limited doses and our phones are lighting up and you can’t get through, because everybody is trying to call.”
Other county and state government agencies are getting shipments of the vaccine as well, as are different hospitals and health organizations throughout the state. Susan Konya, director of Nursing for MVA Health Center in Fairmont, said the center is getting notified about shipments through the National Guard, so distributing them to patients is a challenge as well.
“We are in the same boat,” Konya said. “Literally, the state calls you and you have to go get it if you want it. So it was very challenging over the holidays to receive the vaccination.”
In West Virginia, residents who get the vaccine are tracked through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Administration Management System, which is an “optional, web-based application that supports planning and execution for temporary, mobile, or satellite COVID-19 vaccination clinics, as well as traditional medical practices that do not have existing IT systems for vaccination clinic management,” according to the CDC website.
Because the vaccine comes in two separate doses that must be taken about three weeks apart, White said this system is integral to the county’s distribution of the vaccine.
Konya said MVA received shipments of Moderna vaccinations late in December, which the organization has been able to distribute to staff and patients. She also said those that weren’t initially able to be distributed were given to patients who could make it in to an appointment on time.
“Staff that expressed a desire to be vaccinated, we received that two weeks ago, the 23rd of December. We have received very limited quantities on the 31st of December, and we called 80 and over patients to receive those doses,” Konya said. “The vaccinations are very time-sensitive, so if someone didn’t show up we made calls to get patients in so that none of the vaccine was wasted. We have given about 150 vaccinations.”
White said COVID testing has still been popular at the health department and the staff members are still performing tests on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Konya also said MVA Health Centers have been offering multiple kinds of testing, and results of positive cases are reported to the county and state for consistent tabulation.
“All positive rapid tests we fax directly to the county and the state,” Konya said. “All molecular LabCorp tests are automatically entered into a database that the state has access to, to avoid double reporting.”
Konya stressed the importance of getting tested for COVID at the right time after exposure. If a person who has been exposed gets tested too early, they may receive a diagnosis of a misleading negative.
“There are a lot of misconceptions in regard to testing,” Konya said. “’I got exposed yesterday, I want tested today.’ It’s too early. That’s where the false negatives come in. Wait five to seven days before you are tested. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving false negatives. That’s where you run the risk of people being asymptomatic and spreading the disease.”
White said he still believes everyone in Marion County who wants to get vaccinated can receive one by the end of March, but the coming weeks will be stressful at the health department because of the demand. He urged people to be patient when requesting the vaccine, because it will be hard to predict until the vaccine becomes more widely available.
“Let’s assume that we have a 20,000 population trying to get one of my 100 doses,” White said. “I don’t like the situation but I can’t do anything to change it.”