For the first time since COVID-19 vaccinations began, Ravalli County has an oversupply of the shots.
With about 3,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech on hand, county officials opted out of next week's vaccine distribution as the county and its COVID-19 vaccination partners look at options to get what they have in people’s arms as quickly as possible.
Ravalli County Office of Emergency Management Director Eric Hoover said Wednesday the county received about 2,000 doses of the vaccine within the last 10 days from the state.
“We were offered another tray of the Pfizer vaccine, but decided to forgo that next week,” Hoover said. “We wanted it to go to other counties where it could be used quicker."
State health officials told the county that missing the delivery won’t impact future allocations to Ravalli County, Hoover said.
Ravalli County Public Health is working with Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, Sapphire Community Health and Ravalli County Family Medicine to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to people. Hoover said most local pharmacies are receiving their allocations of the vaccine directly from the federal government.
There has been a disconnect between the federal and state program, Hoover said. At this point, he added that the county is unable to determine how much vaccine is being delivered in Ravalli County to local pharmacies.
“That’s been one the main factors that led to us having this large quantity of vaccine on hand,” Hoover said. “Several pharmacies that were registered with the state vaccine program are no longer asking for allocations from what we receive from the state.”
Part of that may be due to the fact the state allocation to Ravalli County has been the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage that’s been made available to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital through Rocky Mountain Laboratories.
Corvallis Pharmacy Manager Sydonia Curtis said they have been administering Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“We have not signed up to get any of the Pfizer because we thought that might be taking on a little too much,” Curtis said. “It was enough of a learning experience once we added the Johnson & Johnson to our inventory. For safety and organization, we thought we would stick to those two.”
Corvallis Pharmacy is working on getting second doses of Moderna to a couple of hundred teachers. It recently completed a clinic that vaccinated about another 230 people.
At this point, Curtis said the pharmacy is receiving an ample supply of the Moderna vaccine, but there is a waiting list for the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“Interestingly, there’s quite a crowd of people who only want the Johnson and Johnson vaccine,” she said.
Curtis expects the demand for the vaccine to increase after the state officially opens up eligibility to everyone 16 and over on April 1.
Ravalli County Public Health Department director Tiffany Webber said the county is administering 350 doses a week through its clinic. The county commission approved opening the clinic on Saturdays, which would add another 240 doses a week.
Webber said the challenge is finding nurses to staff the clinic on that extra day.
“Nurses don’t grow on trees,” Webber said. “Most of the nurses working for me right now are retired … As soon as I have the staff, we’ll open on Saturdays. I don’t think it will be this weekend.”
Hoover said the county is also working with its partners to plan another large clinic that would administer 1,000 to 1,500 doses.
“We are going to do that, but we have to pull the resources together first,” he said. “It will probably happen the last couple weeks of April or the first week of May.”
Webber said it appears that people are feeling more comfortable about getting the vaccine, although they did have one person who became irate at the county clinic because the person mistakenly thought they were being forced to take the vaccine. That person was asked to leave.
“At public health, we don’t believe anyone should be vaccinated who doesn’t want to be vaccinated,” Webber said. “We are here to provide the service for those who want it.”
This week there was some information passed along on social media about the county’s vaccine situation that Hoover said was missing context and created some confusion. He urged the public to rely on messages distributed by either the county’s public health department or emergency management on Facebook or through the sheriff’s app.
“Anyone can start something like this on social media,” Hoover said. “I urge people to use recognized sources of information.”
The CDC website, vaccinefinder.org, lists all providers allocated vaccine through the state program and offers people information on whether the providers have vaccine available and what kind they have.
“It’s a good resource,” Hoover said. “It offers more real-time information than we have.”
Webber said the county is still working off its registry list to make appointments but is finding that many people have already received their vaccinations elsewhere.