As Delaware prepares to extend vaccinations to more people, questions remain on how the shots given so far have been administered.
“Everyone who wasn't part of a large healthcare system was left out,” said Dr. Sherin Howett, owner of Pearl Clinic in Millsboro. “It shouldn't be who you know, or who you're connected to, to get access. Certain groups and agencies are clearly being prioritized.”
The first vaccine was administered Dec. 15, and since then, several unannounced large-scale vaccination sites have been offered, mostly at fire departments and Division of Motor Vehicle facilities in each county. The most recent unannounced event was held Jan. 16-18 at the DMV in Dover, when word of mouth spread like wildfire and everyone waiting in the long lines got vaccinated.
Gov. John Carney said the word-of-mouth process was not ideal in regard to the throng of vehicles that showed up at that event.
“I'll take responsibility for that as governor. My priority was to have these pods at the DMVs, get our frontline healthcare workers vaccinated, and take back some of the vaccinations from some of those who hadn't utilized them,” he said, during a Facebook Live session held Jan. 19 with Dr. Karyl Rattay, DPH director.
Carney said 2,000 vaccine doses have been taken from an organization that didn't use them, so they can go into people's arms.
But Howett said she doubts private practices will receive those doses. Since December, she said, the state has sent emails to specific groups, giving them priority while excluding small medical practices that could be administering shots to patients.
“How come fire departments are more important than your medical offices that are actively treating patients and trying to keep them out of the hospitals?” she asked. “It didn't make any sense.”
Following the Jan. 16-18 event where everyone who showed up got vaccinated, a Division of Public Health spokesperson said an on-the-spot decision was made to do so. She also said logistically the state has not been able to reach all 186,000 senior citizens who need shots. Carney also put out a call for more manpower during the Facebook Live session. “We're going to need more help to sustain these high throughput operations,” he said.
But if staffing is an issue, Howett said, state decisions to exclude private practices from receiving vaccines and administering them make even less sense.
“There are plenty of private providers who want to give people shots,” she said. “[DPH] claims to not have enough people to vaccinate and they need volunteers to vaccinate, when they have plenty of people who want to help. Why aren't they talking to us?”
In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 19 announcement that Delaware would be expanding vaccinations for people over 65 and other at-risk groups, press releases encouraged those people to contact their primary care physicians. Since then, Howett said, her office has fielded hundreds of calls from her patients asking when they'll get the vaccine. She and her staff have been unable to provide any answers.
“It's almost like we're being made the scapegoat,” she said. “It's unfair that the state has pushed it on primary care physicians, forcing us to field calls because the state doesn't want to handle them.”
56,000 register on first day
On Jan. 20, the state unveiled a registration system to facilitate the vaccination process, requiring anyone attending vaccination events to sign up ahead of time, including a large-scale event planned for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 23 and 24, at the Georgetown DMV.
On its first day of taking appointments, however, there were already 56,000 people who had registered.
With limited vaccination doses available from the federal government, Carney said it could take weeks or months for all 200,000 Phase 1B eligible individuals to be vaccinated. Phase 1B includes people 65 and over, frontline essential workers, correctional officers, teachers, U.S. postal workers, food manufacturing workers, and grocery store workers. Efforts will also continue to vaccinate healthcare personnel, and nursing home residents and staff who have not yet been vaccinated.
As of Jan. 19, Delaware has received 89,525 vaccines and given 54,760 shots, leaving 34,675 doses.
Rattay said DPH will not be able to accommodate all the requests, and residents who can get a shot through a pharmacy or medical provider should take it.
Howett said she would welcome it. She has put in a requisition for vaccines, but has yet to hear back. Her practice has hundreds of patients who qualify for the shot, she said, but she doubts the state will send enough vaccines for everyone.
“They basically alluded to the fact that practices are probably not going to be getting more than 100 doses, and these would be the first dose,” she said. “It's definitely going to be a slow process, if this is where we're getting handicapped, so to speak.”
Delawareans 65 and older seeking a vaccination appointment can go to vaccinerequest.delaware.gov to be added to a waiting list. When appointments become available, emails will be sent to individuals telling them how to set up an appointment online to get vaccinated at an upcoming event. These invitations will be unique and cannot be shared. Registration will be available in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.
People who do not have computer access can call the COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center at 1-833-643-1715 for help making the initial request.
DPH expects more requests for vaccination event appointments than doses and slots available for the first weekend and the foreseeable future. Invitations to schedule appointments will be sent out based on age, medical condition and other risk factors.
Delawareans 65 and older who request an appointment but do not immediately receive an invitation email will remain on the waiting list for future vaccination events. Submitting multiple requests will not increase the chance of getting an appointment invitation.
Any individuals who arrive without an appointment should not expect to be vaccinated. In the next few weeks, more large-scale vaccination venues are expected; all will require an appointment.
Those going to drive-through vaccination events should wear clothing that allows upper arm exposure without getting out of the vehicle to remove a coat or shirt. Also, officials said, if someone has received a flu, shingles or other vaccination recently, they cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccination within the next 14 days.
For more information, go to de.gov/covidvaccine.