Nearly a month since the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the county, Campbell County Public Health says it’s remaining flexible in its rollout of the vaccine as the number of those to agreeing to receive the inoculation is so far fewer than hoped for.
“We have not had as many take the vaccine as I was anticipating,” said Jane Glaser, Public Health’s executive director.
As of Friday, about 500 people in Campbell County have received the COVID-19 vaccine, said Ivy McGowan, a county spokeswoman.
The county provides no exact number, or even a rough estimate, of how many in Campbell County are eligible to receive the vaccine as Public Health considers moving toward vaccinating the next tier of potential recipients.
The Wyoming Department of Health has so far designated two tiers of people who qualify for being first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The first, 1A, includes health care workers who deal in direct patient care, EMS personnel, long-term care facility residents, some first responders and others who may be in direct contact with COVID-19 positive cases.
Its second tier, 1B, makes the vaccine available to residents older than 70, other law enforcement and fire personnel not covered in the first tier and most other frontline workers, including grocery store employees and public education K-12 staff along with other school workers.
Glaser hopes to begin vaccinating the second tier this week, saying that many in the over-70 population have shown interest in getting vaccinated and that arrangements to set up a clinic at the Senior Center are in the works.
The state’s priority tiers were developed on recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Those organizations weighed the factors such as decreasing death and serious illness, preserving societal function and reducing the added burden COVID-19 placed on people already facing disparities when determining its categories.
“These are coming from the federal level, the CDC, and we have to follow those guidelines that are put out to us, especially because this is federal vaccine and we have to go by the guidance that we are given by the CDC level to the Wyoming Department of Health level then to us,” Glaser said.
All of the COVID-19 vaccines in Campbell County are technically given to Public Health, although the Pfizer vaccine is stored and used at Campbell County Memorial Hospital. That vaccine requires an ultra cold storage temperature that requires a freezer of which there are only five of in the state, said Robert Quintana, director of pharmacy at Campbell County Health.
The hospital’s acquisition of that freezer earlier this year may have helped Campbell County get the vaccine a month earlier than it otherwise would have, he said.
So far, the county has received 1,950 Pfizer doses sent in two shipments of 975, one for the first doses and the second shipment meant to satisfy a second booster shot to be paired with the first shipment. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require recipients to get two doses spaced roughly three weeks apart for desired immunity.
Public Health received 500 doses of Moderna’s vaccine in December and another 200 doses in early January. By the end of the month, Public Health is scheduled to have received another 1,200 Moderna doses. If that goes as planned, the county will have received 3,850 total doses by February.
“It’s kind of a rolling total,” Glaser said.
Still, Glaser emphasized the importance of the department remaining adaptable. As long as the vaccine remains frozen, it will not go bad. But once thawed, there’s a limited amount of time to administer the vaccine before it expires. Determining the number of doses to thaw and prepare them requires precise coordination between Public Health and whichever group it tries vaccinating.
Avoiding waste requires time-consuming planning and preparation, Glaser said. Ideally, Public Health will be able to know a specific number of recipients ahead of time before heading out in its mobile clinic or setting up a pop-up immunization clinic somewhere.
“We have not wasted any vaccine here in Campbell County,” she said.
Going forward, besides those vaccines stored and administered by the hospital, Glaser said Public Health intends to administer most of the vaccine itself.
“We just give whatever amount we have ... and then it will be replenished so that everybody who gets a first shot will have a second shot,” Glaser said. “And we’re not to hold any vaccine back, so whatever we have we want to give.”
Slipping through cracks
Residents of long-term care facilities fall into the first vaccination tier but have yet to receive it in Gillette.
Last week, Quintana said that CCH is working to begin offering vaccines to staff and residents at the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center this week.
Originally, the Legacy was scheduled to receive vaccinations for residents and staff though a federal program partnering with Walgreens and CVS. Because those were not set to arrive until later this month and the hospital has an excess supply, the state Department of Health arranged to have CCH begin offering the vaccine it has to the Legacy, Quintana said.
“I want to make sure people understand it’s not that our long-term care and assisted living aren’t a priority, because they most definitely are; it’s just going to be coming from a different route,” Glaser said. “They definitely are in that first tier and their vaccine is just being handled in a different manner.”
The change of course for the Legacy’s vaccination plan is an example of how weeks after the first vaccines became available, the initial plan has had to adapt to the reality of Campbell County’s supply and demand.
“You’ve got to be Gumby with it,” Quintana said. “You have to be so flexible every day.”
This issue is not unique to Campbell County. States and communities throughout the country have struggled to give out all the vaccine they’ve received, despite having far from enough to immunize to the point of herd immunity.
Even in hospitals.
Some hospitals throughout the nation have seen as many as 80% of staff decline the vaccine, The Associated Press reported.
For example, it reported that 40% of Ohio’s long-term care facility workers have agreed to be vaccinated, said Gov. Mike DeWine. In North Carolina, health officials have said that more than half of its nursing home staff were refusing the vaccine.
Through their position as the primary vaccine provider for long-term care facilities, CVS and Walgreens did not provide specific numbers for its acceptance rates but noted that residents accepted the vaccine at a higher rate than staff, according to The Associated Press.
As the weeks pass, many similar examples are popping up across the country.
In Campbell County, there could be several reasons why those who have been eligible and offered the vaccine have declined taking it.
At Campbell County Memorial Hospital, Quintana said an internal campaign began to educate CCH employees about the vaccine’s safety and importance.
“The first response wasn’t as high as we thought it would be,” he said.
The hospital appears to have a higher acceptance rate of the vaccine than others offered in the community so far. As of Dec. 31, CCH had vaccinated 369 employees, including 135 shots administered on the first day the Pfizer vaccine was made available in the county, said CCH spokeswoman Karen Clarke.
“I do know that there is hesitancy with the vaccine,” Glaser said. “Hopefully, as more people get the vaccine and know somebody who got the vaccine and they did not get a serious reaction to it or grow a third arm, hopefully more and more people will decide they will get the vaccine.”
‘An informed decision’
Local law enforcement were eligible to get the vaccine in the days leading up to Christmas, but both the Gillette Police Department and Campbell County Sheriff’s Office report low percentages of employees volunteer to get it.
Sheriff Scott Matheny said 14 people in his department of about 160 volunteered to get the vaccine when Public Health offered it. The county coroner and deputy coroner account for two of the 14 who were vaccinated.
Matheny said there are a number of reasons for the low vaccination rate.
First, “We did not know we were going to be on that list that quick,” he said. “It seemed like a fast, hasty thing, which I understand. They’re trying to get this out there.”
Matheny said his employees “weren’t sure of the effect it would have” since it’s such a new vaccine. Going into the Christmas holiday, “they didn’t want to be sick.”
It was for those same reasons that Matheny, who gets a flu shot every year, decided not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’d be nice to have some data first before you take a shot,” he said.
There needs to be more education about the vaccine, Matheny said, because there are multiple companies that have developed vaccines, and there is a lot of information and misinformation out there on the internet.
As for the employees who have been vaccinated, none have reported any bad side effects, he said.
“I don’t think there was any reaction they had to it, other than a sore shoulder,” Matheny said.
Additionally, the sheriff is in the office most of the time. He’d rather have people who need the vaccine more, such as the elderly and people who are “on the front lines,” get it before he does.
Lt. Paul Pownall agreed.
“If somebody needed it more than I did, I would gladly give that vaccine up to them,” he said.
Pownall was one of those who declined to take the vaccine when it was first offered. But after talking with his doctor and doing some research, he will receive the vaccine later this week.
“People have the right to do whatever,” he said. “You just have to make an informed decision based on the information you have.”
At the Gillette Police Department, Lt. Brent Wasson said 65 officers were eligible to take the vaccine and 11 of volunteered to receive it. He was one of those who was vaccinated.
“I hadn’t been exposed, so I got it as a precaution,” he said.
The turnout has been greater at the Campbell County Fire Department, albeit with a much smaller sample size. Chief Jeff Bender said 26 firefighters who are EMS-credentialed were offered the vaccine, and 60% have either taken it or plan to get it.
Commissioner D.G. Reardon said the turnout at the Sheriff’s Office was much lower than he expected. He’d hoped to have a rate closer to 50%. He believes people have the right to decide whether they want to get vaccinated, but wishes more people would have taken the opportunity to get the shot.
“I was really surprised and disappointed that we didn’t have a better vaccination rate,” he said.
He understands there are a lot of questions surrounding the vaccine, which was developed more quickly than any other in history. But with how it’s been tested and vetted, Reardon is confident that it will do its job.
“If we’re going to slow COVID down and keep people out of the hospital, people are going to have to participate in it,” he said.
While it wouldn’t hurt to have more education on the vaccine, especially for people who are on the fence about it, Reardon said he feels many “people have made up their minds already, one way or another, whether they’re going to take the vaccine.”
He said he thinks part of the low turnout is because of Wyoming’s culture.
“We live in a state where people are very independent, they do what they’re going to do,” Reardon said.
Individual rights are important, and they carry with them a tremendous amount of responsibility, Reardon said.
“I don’t have the right to make other people sick. If I can do something to keep people from getting sick, I should do it,” he said.
A lack of general education on the COVID-19 vaccine may be contributing to some of those who are vaccine-eligible declining a dose, some officials said.
“I think COVID, in a general sense, has been very politicized,” Quintana said. “We have social media out there that is not a great friend. I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and partial information out there.”
The efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94% respectively, rates that are high for any vaccine, Glaser said.
She hoped to dispel other misunderstandings or misinformed ideas that may be keeping some from accepting the vaccine.
“It is absolutely impossible that you can get COVID from the vaccine, because there is no part of the virus in the vaccine,” Glaser said. “I hear this all the time that it’s going to alter DNA, but it can’t. There’s nothing in it that can alter your DNA in any way.”
The local vaccine rollout remains a fluid situation. What is known is that it is off to a slower than expected start. Now that the county has the vaccine, it is facing the logistical and ethical conundrums that seem to evolve each day.
“This is one of the best ways we can get the pandemic under control,” Glaser said about vaccinating the community.
A light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps. But now the length of that tunnel is becoming more apparent.
A cold front moving into northeast Wyoming on Wednesday evening will bring with it high winds.
The National Weather Service office in Rapid City, South Dakota, is predicting the front, coming from the northwest and moving southeast, will arrive late Wednesday and could continue through as late as Thursday night. Wind speeds of 25 to 35 miles per hour are expected, said meteorologist Keith Sherburn, and there could be gusts of 50 mph or higher.
This week will feature dry and mild weather with temperatures running around 10 degrees higher than average for this time of year. However, the front will move through Thursday, dropping temperatures a little and bringing gusty northwest winds.
“Probably, we’ll get a couple different batches of high winds, or it will start Wednesday and continue through the entire day Thursday,” Sherburn said.
It will be the second wind storm to hit Campbell County in the span of less than a month. Shortly before Christmas, Gillette experienced a snow storm with wind gusts of 56 mph.
Sherburn said the front won’t bring a lot of precipitation and that residents of Campbell County can expect a dusting to a quarter-inch of snow.
Leading up to the wind storm, Sherburn said Campbell County could come close to record highs Tuesday and Wednesday. The cold front will “knock temperatures back to right around normal,” he said.
Beyond next week, there are indications that temperatures will trend toward below average for the third week of January.
A Gillette woman was killed in a one-car rollover off Interstate 90 by the Port of Entry exit in Sundance at about 11 p.m. Friday.
Keelie Garvin, 27, was driving a 2008 Ford F-250 west on I-90 when she lost control of the truck in the right-hand lane then skidded before rotating counter-clockwise as the truck left the roadway and entered the median. The truck then flipped over onto its top, said WHP Lt. Tim Boumeester.
Garvin was wearing a seat belt during the crash and died at the scene.
A 23-year-old passenger, Corban Vassar, was taken to Crook County Hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening.
Speeding too fast for conditions is being investigated as a possible factor. The Highway Patrol noted that the interstate was covered with ice after an overnight snowstorm.
The weekend death was the fourth Wyoming highway fatality in 2021, compared to one as of Jan. 8 a year ago, three in 2019 and one in 2018.