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Commission backs COVID vaccine effort
At some point, a sign-up system may work
covid baccine clinic
The Barton County Commission Monday morning approved a resolution supporting local efforts to deliver COVID-19 vaccines. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Saturday COVID vaccination clinic planned

The Barton County Health Department will hold a first-come-first-serve drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic Saturday at the Great Bend Expo Complex west of town.

They will offer 300 second doses from 10 a.m. to noon, and 400 first doses starting at 2 p.m. If there are any of the second doses left over, they will be rolled over into the afternoon for first doses.

Having nothing but praise for the efforts of Barton County health and other officials spearheading the county’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the County Commission Monday morning approved a resolution supporting those efforts until a different system is developed and feasible.

“We need to take the brunt of the calls and let (Health Director Karen Winkelman) do her work,” said District 1 Commissioner Kriby Krier, whose idea it was take such an action. “We need to get out of her way.”

He moved to continue to the first-come-first-serve plan until Winkelman, Sheriff Brian Bellendir and County Administrator Phil Hathcock implement a new method. It received unanimous support.

Current system working

“I was out at the last vaccination last Wednesday,” Krier said. “What I saw was that additional 100 (400 instead of 300) doses seemed to make a huge difference on the traffic that we had to turn away.”

He said maybe 50 to 60 were turned back. But at prior clinics, the numbers were around 500.

He thinks they are making great strides on the first-come-first-serve system they’ve implemented. “I think we’re two or three weeks away from people driving on through and getting their vaccinations without waiting.” The number of doses is the only limiting factor. 

District 3 Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson agreed with Krier.

“All of us are taking it seriously and doing the very best job we can,” Hutchinson said, noting Hathcock, Winkelman and Bellendir all deserve to take a bow for their efforts over the last few months. “I would like to thank you on behalf of the commission for a good job.

“There’s a lot of people who would like to get this that maybe can’t sit in their vehicle and wait that long,” he said. But, “are we going to spend more time trying to implement a system to help these people then it’s going to take for the demand to wane anyway?”

“The problem we’ll have if we do a sign-up is that we’re still going to have lines,” Krier said. “Our main objective is to vaccinate as many people as we can and not waste vaccine. And that is what we’re doing.”

If there is a sign-up system, doses will get wasted because people don’t show up, Krier said. Because even with this, there won’t be specific time slots for the shots, and they will still first-come-first-serve. 

“Our problem we’ve had in the past is that we call people, and they still didn’t show up, And then we have these vaccines,” he said. “We need to make sure we don’t have any vaccine left over.”

“To my knowledge, we have not wasted any vaccines,”  District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz said, “When we have leftover vaccines,it puts stress on the Health Department to find people to come in on a moment’s notice to receive it. I’m all for anything that does not tax our Health Department.”

What about a sign-up?

Schartz did ask Hathcock about the status of an online-telephone registration system. He, along with health officials have been working on this for some time. 

“I do have a program lined up that I could put in place fairly quickly,” Hathcock said. “But, what we’ve been doing is working very well. Right now, the best course of action from everybody that I’ve talked to stay the course.”

Even if the county were to get more vaccine doses, Winkelman said it would be more cumbersome to operate a sign-up system in tandem with the current program.

What about setting aside a small percentage of the doses for those who can’t wait in line? 

There would still be lines, said Bellendir who leads the traffic control at the drive-though clinics. “I got out there at 6:45 Wednesday morning. There were 15 cars in line. And at least one vehicle had spent the night there,” he said. “The problem you’re going to run into is, even if you do make a appointment or an allotment, you’re still going have people there at 6:45 in the morning for 10 a.m. vaccination so they’re still going to wait in line.”

Bellendir said say that if they had another 100 to 150 doses, they would not have had to turn anyone away. “They would have driven right in and right out.”

At this point, from a traffic standpoint, it is just a lack of having enough vaccine, he said. “I foresee within the next two or three sessions like this, we won’t turn anybody away.”

“It’s starting to change,” Krier said. At the first clinics, people were being turned away at 1 p.m. for a 4 p.m. event, but this last time, that didn’t happen until 3 p.m.

Also, possibly, in a matter of a few weeks, a federal program will release additional vaccines to pharmacies. And, Krier said that will take some of the burden off of local officials and help those who can’t sit in line.

“I think the program as it stands has worked very well,” said Chairman Jim Daily, District 4, said. “But, on the other hand we don’t want to let anybody fall through the cracks.”

He was referring to seniors or those with impairments that might prevent them from being able to wait. “So it may be necessary to have a combination of both programs, if we can do that. Maybe the sign-up is on a limited basis.”

Daily cited efforts in counties like Harvey and Sedgwick. “They seem to be working as well as ours.”

Difficult to prioritize 

To speed this vaccination drive, Winkelman said there will be a drive-through clinic this Saturday. They will offer 300 second doses from 10 a.m. to noon, and 400 first doses starting at 2 p.m., all at the Great Bend Expo Complex west of town.

If there are any off the second doses left over, they will be rolled over into the afternoon for first doses, she said.

This will make the shots more easily available to those who can’t get off work during the week, such as teachers. But, Winkelman said no one included in Phase 2 under Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s vaccine rollout plan is of a higher priority than anyone else.

Although the Kansas Department of Health and Environment puts all Phase 2 candidates at the same level, she said the county could make a determination. “I have had calls from people just looking at the list and interpreting the list as that is the order of priority, and KDHE he has made it very clear that is not the order of priority designated by them, it is merely a list of those eligible people.”