The Whitley County Health Department is planning to switch the primary COVID-19 vaccine that it uses in a few weeks to one that requires only a single dose rather than two, and it is hoping to expand the vaccination program to lesser served groups after it does so.
So far, the health department has received 1,320 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and has administered 738 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, and 392 second doses of the Moderna vaccine, in addition to 190 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose.
“We do intend to switch exclusively to Johnson and Johnson as soon as their supply chain issues get worked out potentially around the first of April,” Whitley County Health Department Public Health Director Marcy Rein told the Whitley County Board of Health Monday during its quarterly meeting.
The health department has had a total of 4,842 people sign up on its waiting list, but currently there are only about 495 people waiting on a vaccine as some people have gotten vaccinated at other locations.
Rein said that the health department thinks it can get the waiting list caught up in a few weeks once the switch to the one dose vaccine is made.
“We are ultimately pivoting to work on improving equitable access to the vaccine,” she added.
Once the switch to Johnson and Johnson is complete, the health department plans to start vaccinating inmates at the Whitley County Detention Center. Staff have already been vaccinated, Rein said.
The health department will also be working with the White Flag Ministry to try and reach more of the homeless population.
In addition, the health department is willing to work with churches that serve large populations of people with no Internet access to make vaccination appointments.
So far the health department has been reimbursed for about 65 percent of its COVID-19 related expenses, which add up to about $37,000 per month.
This doesn’t include another $15,000 per month in expenses that the health department has taken on after the state quit paying for the cost of disease investigators, Rein added.
Also, during Monday’s meeting, the board of health discussed the harm reduction program, which involves the needle exchange program.
The Bell, Knox, Whitley ASAP Board is reimbursing Whitley County $2,897.69 for syringes it has purchased this fiscal year for the needle exchange program.
Under the program, drug users can bring in used needles and exchange those for new needles once a week. The program is designed to reduce the spread of communicable diseases, such as Hepatitis C and HIV, which are often spread when drug users share needles they use for intravenous drug use.
Rein said this amount covers about one-third of what the health department has spent on syringes so far this fiscal year. The program averages distributing about 6,000 needles per month.
In February it served 184 people through the health department office in Williamsburg and 17 people through the office in Corbin.
The Hep Connect grant is being used to pay for food and hygiene kits that are being distributed to harm reduction clinic participants.
Rein added that computerized software patches are being sought for the OD Map program, which is a system to track overdose reporting by police and first responders.
The computerized patches would be used in conjunction with the E-911 computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, and would automatically document Narcan use by emergency services agencies.
Narcan is a substance used to reverse the effects of drug overdoses.
Narcan use is not always getting entered into the system when agencies have to do it manually, Rein added.