CLEVELAND, Ohio – Health officials in Greater Cleveland are ready to ramp up coronavirus vaccination programs, providing perhaps more than 100,000 shots a week, but there’s one catch.
All say they are hindered by a lack of available vaccine.
Representatives from the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth System, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Cleveland’s health department and the Center for Health Affairs in Greater Cleveland all expressed similar frustrations to Cleveland City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee on Monday.
All are scheduling appointments for vaccinations, particularly with people aged 75 and older, but they are limited in what they can do.
“The barrier is the number of vaccines, and hopefully that will be rectified sooner than later,” said Beth Gatlin, the director of emergency preparedness for the Center for Health Affairs.
“We’re eventually going to get to everyone who wants a vaccination,” Gatlin said. “As more vaccines come online from the federal government, the flow will be more freely available, and the outreach will become deeper.”
The Clinic and University Hospitals each estimated they had staffing to handle about 40,000 vaccinations against COVID-19 each week.
UH last week had enough doses for only about 300 vaccinations – work that was done in just a few hours, said Champ Burgess, the hospital system’s chief of pharmacy.
Cleveland Department of Public Health could staff up to six distribution sites at the same time, each handling up to 1,000 shots a day.
It has maintained one standing site in the Public Auditorium and opened two satellite sites briefly in recreation centers. A third is planned for Saturday.
MetroHealth System is staffed to handle about 4,000 shots a week presently, said Dr. Brook Watts, the system’s chief quality officer.
“If we had the vaccine, we would find a way to do more,” Watts said.
Cuyahoga County Board of Health is also providing shots.
Health providers had hoped the vaccine supply would loosen up after President Donald Trump’s health and human services director, Alex Azar, announced in January that the government would release vaccine doses in a national stockpile. But that same week the Trump administration acknowledged that no stockpile existed.
Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies with vaccines that have been approved by the FDA, are being distributed now nearly as fast as “they come of the assembly line,” said Sam Brown, University Hospital’s vice president for operations.
And the shortage of vaccine doses is a global issue, Gatlin said.
But there is hope.
A vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, one that requires one shot instead of the two needed from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, is nearing FDA review and approval for use.
And President Joe Biden’s administration is contemplating use of the Defense Production Act to speed the manufacture of vaccine doses.
In the meantime, those providing shots will have to continue scheduling appointments carefully to make sure none of the limited supplies are wasted, health officials said.
And they will continue talking with each other, planning for when they can expand operations, said Dr. Alice Kim of the Cleveland Clinic. Those cooperative efforts began a year ago with the rise of the pandemic and sometimes involve multiple conference calls a day, she said.
“This is just the next layer,” Kim said. “We’ve put down our rivalries. … We are all coordinating efforts.”
Most importantly, Watts said, is that all are ready to expand distribution as quickly as possible when more doses become available.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good if [vaccine] sits in a freezer,” Watts said.
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