Johnson County vaccine distribution model likely to change as demand slows

COVID-19 booster

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As vaccine demand continues to slow down, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment could begin to change its approach to vaccine distribution. The days of mass vaccination sites could be numbered, Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., director of the health department, said.

“While the slow down is here, it doesn’t mean [demand] has completely stopped — it hasn’t,” Areola said.

Changing the approach

In the future, the approach could more closely resemble regular vaccination programs, like  annual flu shots, that rely on multiple pathways to deliver the vaccine to people over a period of time instead of clinics that administer upwards of 3,000 vaccines in a day. Under that model, private physicians and pharmacy partners would become the primary vaccine channels.

“What we have done the past two, three months — trying to give out thousands of vaccines every week — is really not realistic long term,” Areola said.

In the early months of the vaccine rollout, demand for doses outpaced supply because it was scarce at the time, Areola said. Now that supply is more widespread, the scramble to get an appointment has dissipated. Areola says that was anticipated.

“The pace will be different, but the effort continues,” he said.

At this time, about 25% of the county’s eligible population is fully immunized against COVID-19, director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said. Population immunity will require at least 75% of the county to be vaccinated, if not more.

Addressing vaccine hesitancy

Vaccination hesitancy does cause Areola some concern. These are people who may eventually receive the vaccine, but are waiting to do so for any number of reasons. Some people can be convinced to receive the vaccine by watching their friends and families get it. Others might have questions they want answered. There are also people who may never sign up to receive the vaccine.

In the meantime, JCDHE is working to have more targeted vaccine opportunities, including vaccination sites at houses of worship or workplaces. There are also plans to continue to make appointments more accessible by offering extended hours or setting up distribution in areas that might have been missed.

“We’ll be in the community,” Areola said. “We’ll go to [places where] people are and we’ll vaccinate them.”

Will I need a booster?

Late last week, Pfizer announced recipients of its vaccine will likely need some kind of booster shot in the months to come. Additionally, the company expects some kind of regular doses to be required afterwards, like an annual flu vaccine.

For the last few weeks, Johnson County has received and administered mostly Pfizer vaccines. The specifics of booster rollout locally are unclear.

“Research is ongoing about booster doses. JCDHE will follow the direction of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment when it becomes available,” Areola said.

Kevin Ault, MD, an OBGYN in the University of Kansas Health System, is on the federal Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices. He said some kind of booster should be expected for any vaccine brand given the potential for COVID-19 variants and the lack of data about durability.

The speed at which these vaccines were created and given emergency use authorization means there is really no long-term data about how long immunity from the vaccines last, Ault said. Data from the trials suggests that immunity lasts at least six months, but the window could be longer than that.

“We just don’t have anybody that was vaccinated longer than six months ago to follow,” Ault said.

Getting a vaccine appointment

Now, JCDHE is setting up appointments two weeks in advance with morning, afternoon and evening time slots.

People who want a vaccine no longer have to fill out an interest survey, but can access the open link here. Appointments are still required.

For information about vaccine opportunities beyond the county-run clinic, click here.