- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2021

South Dakota, New Hampshire and West Virginia are leading the nation in vaccinating their residents, achieving vaccination rates above 50%, as some states struggle to quickly administer the coronavirus shots.

As of Wednesday, South Dakota appeared to outrank all other states, having administered 28,581 vaccines out of 44,300 distributed — meaning nearly 65% of available doses have made it into the arms of eligible individuals, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Hampshire and West Virginia are tied for second place, at about 56%.

New Hampshire has administered 30,035 out of 53,675 vaccine doses distributed, while West Virginia has administered 60,933 out of 109,440 doses received, according to state health department data.

However, CDC data show that West Virginia has administered about 45% of its available doses, about 10% below what the state is reporting.

More than 8,300 of the West Virginians who have been vaccinated reportedly are members the general population who are 80 years old and older.

“We all know that every hour that goes by that somebody who’s 80 years old isn’t getting the vaccine, people are going to die, and those people were being told, over and over, they would not be getting the vaccine until, probably, April, and they were scared,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in a briefing this week. “I said we had to move right away to get these vaccines in the arms of our people.”

Starting Thursday, the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to all teachers and school staffers 50 years old and older in West Virginia. Residents of all ages in each of the state’s 214 long-term care facilities reportedly have been offered the vaccine as of last week.

North Dakota trailed third Wednesday, having administered 22,358 out of 40,825 doses, or about 55%.

Other states including Kansas, Arizona and Michigan are administering doses at a significantly lower rate, federal data shows.

Kansas administered about 15% of its available doses as of Wednesday, while Arizona used about 16% of its current supply. Michigan administered about 21% of its available coronavirus vaccine doses.

So far, 5.2 million doses have been given nationwide, according to a state-by-state tally by Bloomberg and federal data. About 31% of the shots distributed to states have been administered, the news agency reported Wednesday.

There are a number of factors that play into the slower-than-expected administration of coronavirus vaccines, noted Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

He said the process for giving the coronavirus vaccine is more elaborate than the flu shot. Everyone is eligible for the flu shot, but only certain groups of people are prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this time, Dr. Schaffner said, adding that hospitals don’t want ineligible people sneaking in for a shot.

Timing is also a challenge. Dr. Schaffner noted that health care staff need to ensure there are enough people to receive the vaccine in the right amount of time. Unlike the flu shot, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cannot remain in the fridge for a long period of time.

The supply of doses at vaccination sites receive is often uncertain, meaning hospitals have to continually revise their planning for administering the shots, he said, adding that some sites underestimated how complicated the vaccine process would be and didn’t have enough people trained.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who is due for his second Pfizer vaccine dose Friday, said the process of getting a coronavirus shot was much more complicated than getting other vaccines.

To get the Pfizer vaccine, he said he had to fill out a consent form, schedule an appointment during which there were a limited number of slots, fill out a COVID vaccine card, go get the vaccine and then wait for 15 minutes to make sure he didn’t have an allergic reaction.

“So that’s nothing like the process for getting a flu vaccine or tetanus shot, where you’re basically in and out. This process is logistically challenging for hospitals so it’s not surprising there are delays,” said Dr. Adalja. “Hospitals are getting faster over the last several days and weeks, but it is still something that is cumbersome to perform for hospitals.”

Another reason health care systems are “being deliberate” with the COVID-19 vaccinations could be that hospitals cannot afford to have a lot of staff out due to vaccine reactions as the respiratory disease is surging across the U.S., said L.J. Tan, chief strategy officer of the Immunization Action Coalition.

He said many systems are figuring out how to manage the relatively large number of Pfizer-BioNTech doses they get. One approach could be sending their staff to different clinics to get vaccinated based on where the vaccine is available, which could save doses but also delay getting the healthcare workers vaccinated.

Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, said while hospitals and health systems are trying to give COVID-19 vaccines as quickly and safely as possible, they also are working under “very stressed circumstances” such as shortages of workers and personal protective equipment, large numbers of coronavirus patients and limited ICU bed capacity in some areas.

“Mass vaccination is a huge and complex process — and not unlike any other effort of this kind — there are always bumps in the road on any large governmental endeavor, particularly at the beginning,” Mr. Pollack said. “We expect these issues to be worked out, and the pace of vaccinations will increase dramatically over the coming weeks.”

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