As new, active COVID-19 cases climbed sharply this week, Kerr County public health authorities have been working fastidiously behind the scenes to organize a communitywide phone bank to assist in the organized distribution of vaccinations to the public when enough doses become available. At the same time, they continued to plead with citizens to be extra vigilant by using safety precautions.
Mass Vaccination Plan
“There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation by word of mouth or social media regarding the vaccinations and when certain individuals can expect to be inoculated locally,” said William B. “Dub” Thomas, coordinator of Kerr County Emergency Management.
“What we hope everyone can understand is that we are still trying to make sure our first tier of vaccine recipients – health care workers, first responders, etc. – are covered if they choose to be,” Thomas said. “Then, and only then, will we move on to Tier 1B, which is the level that includes those individuals 65 years of age and older who have an underlying medical condition.”
“We understand that many residents want to get their vaccination and the protection it will provide as quickly as they possibly can,” Thomas said. “This sense of urgency has resulted in local pharmacies and the hospital being inundated with phone calls.”
“We live in a community where many individuals will fall into the 1B category, and they know their turn will be next,” Thomas said. “Once we receive large doses of the vaccines, we will implement our communitywide vaccination plan to take care of a maximum number of recipients as quickly as possible.”
Meeting on Wednesday afternoon to work on the roll out of the protective doses of Moderna to the local population was the Kerr County Vaccine Task Force, comprised of city and county emergency management leaders, as well as representatives from Peterson Health, Family Practice Associates and HEB.
Working hard on behalf of the welfare of all Kerr County citizens who want to receive the vaccination, they nailed down details of the communitywide vaccination plan, which will include a phone bank for securing appointments, forms to fill out in advance and more.
Many healthcare workers in that first tier still need to get their shot before incoming vials of the vaccine can be given to the next tier of the public, said meeting host Fredericksburg Fire Department and EMS Fire Chief Eric Maloney.
Kerr County has a large number of people working in healthcare – some 3,400 people who work in various medical capacities, whether they are private physicians, home health care nurses, paramedics and the like. The large number of healthcare personnel here, coupled with the small allotment of doses provided in the first round, means that many here in that first tier still need to be vaccinated.
When it is time to vaccinate the Tier 1B category of individuals – those who are 65 years or older and who have an underlying medical condition – Kerr County has a “mass vaccination footprint” model in the form of its communitywide flu clinic developed some 10 years ago.
The fact that recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine will need to be observed for 15 minutes after they receive their shots “would be a problem for a drive-through clinic, so the model will need to be adapted slightly,” Thomas said.
The task force is coordinating with a few select sites around Kerrville, so that everything is set up and ready to go quickly when Kerr County receives a large enough cache of doses.
Thomas is working on acquiring and lining up volunteers from the Kerr County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and others to man the COVID-19 phone bank, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. That way, Kerr County individuals can call and reserve their time to receive their first dose.
Organizers will limit how many people will be in the clinic area at a time by asking vaccination recipients to come alone. The appointments will also allow organizers to space out visits so that attendees will be able to avoid the risk of catching the novel coronavirus from a crowd of people congregated in waiting lines.
“We will release the phone numbers to the COVID-19 Phone Bank as soon as they are established and online for taking calls,” Thomas said. “We will make public announcements asking people to call the phone bank and set up their appointments, but again, that will not happen until we receive enough doses in our area to host a mass clinic.”
In a show of community solidarity through this pandemic, the various sites around town that receive doses of the vaccine are keeping the lines of communication open between them and are coordinating their efforts. That way, if one place finds itself with an excess of doses and another site has a need, they can be sure that the doses are distributed in a timely way to those who want them.
“We do not want to sit on something,” but instead work together to roll out the vaccines as quickly and orderly as we can, Maloney said. The idea is to make sure as many individuals receive their first doses as soon as possible.
Task force members agreed that they could make the shot clinic(s) run faster and more smoothly, by making a pre-registration packet that contains the necessary paperwork. The packet could be read, filled out at the recipient’s convenience and then just handed over at the time of their appointment. Expected to be included with the packet are information sheets, educating vaccine recipients of the requirements they must meet to receive the shot – such as not having had another vaccine within a certain time frame, etc.
Amber Burress, pharmacy manager at H-E-B, also suggested that when a citizen makes his/her appointment, that they will automatically be scheduled for their second dose of the vaccine to come at the same time of their appointment on a date exactly 4 weeks after their first dose. (The Moderna vaccine, which is the one that will be distributed in Kerr County because its storage requirements are more easily met without special refrigeration devices, consists of two doses, given through injection exactly 28 days apart.)