By MARK EVANS
Ste. Genevieve County is holding its own amid the changing landscape of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Jennifer Mueller, administrator of the county health department, reported to the County Commission last Thursday that 16 percent of county residents had received at least their first vaccine shot. She called the figure “really, really good.”
The county ranks 18th among 116 Missouri counties in vaccinations.
Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson asked whether the 16 percent figure reflected just what the local health department had given out. Mueller said it included residents who got their shots out of the county.
“We finished up our second-round clinic this week,” Mueller said. “It went really well.”
She said another 300 doses would be given out at a clinic this Tuesday. This time, Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital, which has partnered with the health department for each event, would not have any doses. The waiting list would be used, she said.
She has been informed that the flow of vaccine into the county may become a bit more limited, coming only from Missouri Highway Patrol Region C and in smaller amounts.
“That’s how we were told we’re going to get vaccine now for our county,” she said. “It’s only going to come from Region C and we’re only going to get 100 doses a week.”
Mueller said she has informed authorities that the county will be glad to take extra doses any time any are unclaimed.
“Of course a lot of counties have said the exact same thing,” she noted.
Since it appears the vaccine will only be coming in 100 doses at a time, Mueller said she does not anticipate holding any more vaccine clinics at the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center. Instead, the shots will be given in the basement of the health department building on Basler Drive.
“There is a lot of set up and a lot of care on their part, which they’re donating,” Mueller said, referring to the community center personnel. This was because the health department lacks funds to pay for such services.
She added that a grant may be possible that would give the department funding to cover clinic expenses, however.
“If that goes through, we’re allowed to move it if someone wants to charge us rent,” she said.
She noted, though, that it is also a lot of work for the health department to transport everything needed to the community center for clinics. It would not be worth it for a 100-shot event.
“It worked great when we had a lot of people,” she said.
She said she will keep trying to get additional doses.
“We still continue to order from the state, on the rare chance that they’ll say, ‘Oh, sure, we’ll send you more,’” Mueller said.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON
HAS OWN CHALLENGES
Nelson asked whether they will have any of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine available. It just came on the market, alongside Phizer and Moderna vaccines.
“No idea,” Mueller said. “We’ve not been even told we can order it.”
She said that during a phone conference March 1, she had learned that “a couple of health departments” had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine without specifically requesting it.
“They didn’t order it; it was just sent to them,” she said.
“I’m sure as time goes on, you can order it,” she added.
Nelson asked whether those attending vaccinations have to take which ever brand is available.
“That’s what they were saying on the phone,” Mueller said.
She added that one of the more important tenants of the vaccination process is also changing – the requirement of getting both doses of the same vaccine.
“What they were saying from the beginning was if you got Phizer [for your first shot], you needed to get Phizer for your second,” she said. “Now they’re saying, if you got Moderna the first time and only have access to Phizer or Johnson & Johnson this time, go ahead with it.”
She agreed that these changes in government policy are “a nightmare.”
“We really don’t want to play by those rules,” she said.
“I’ve said all along, I’d like to wait for the Johnson & Johnson,” Nelson said. “You don’t have to keep it really cold.”
Like the Moderna vaccine, the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator. The Phizer vaccines, the first to hit the market, required storage temperatures of 96 below zero, Fahrenheit by some accounts, and more than 150 below by others. This required either large amounts of dry ice or specialty freezers that cost more than $100,000 apiece.
Mueller said there are five doses in a vial of the Johnson & Johnson product, versus 10 doses for Moderna.
“Once you puncture the vial, you have six hours to use it, same as Moderna,” she said. “The only difference is, we would never take Johnson & Johnson’s to a clinic. Once you have it drawn up, you have to give it within two hours. Moderna, you have to give within six hours.”
She explained that during a big clinic, the staff would spend the first half hour drawing the vaccine out to get it ready to be administered, before the line begins moving through.
“That’s how we can do it as fast as we can do it,” she said. “We have people drawing it up – as long as we have six hours to do it.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” Nelson said.
Mueller said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would not work for a big clinic, adding that the punctured vials also have to be left in the cooler.
“You just have to say, ‘Okay, I got this one out at eight o’clock, I have to give it by 10,’” Mueller said. “It would be a nightmare. Now we can go up there and not really think about it.”
Nelson gave Mueller some praise.
“It may be a nightmare for you,” he said, “but everybody’s been bragging on you.”
“You’re doing a great job,” Second District County Commissioner Randy Ruzicka said. First District Commissioner Karen Stuppy agreed.
“We work so well with the hospital,” Mueller said. “Everybody’s got their own sand lot. They’re taking care of registration and anything like that because we don’t have the staff, and they do. They have the expertise on that.
“We’re more on the clinical side of it. It’s really, really working.”
STATE MOVES TO 1B, TIER 3
Mueller also noted that Governor Mike Parson is opening the state’s vaccine procedure to Phase 1B, Tier 3 on March 15. This includes teachers, childcare workers government officials, workers in agriculture and energy fields, among others.
“We have teachers really wanting the vaccine,” Mueller said, adding that she hopes to have a vaccine clinic on March 17.
“But it all depends on if we get vaccine,” she said. “If we only get 100 doses and can’t do everyone, we would still do that. But that might upset people if we just target the teachers.”
The 100 doses would not even be enough to cover all R-II teachers at one time, let alone R-II and Valle Catholic both, plus the parochial K-8 schools.
“I kind of feel like we need to get them done because they’re exposed to all these kids,” Mueller said.
Nelson pointed out that it would be difficult for teachers to get away from campus to get shots. Mueller said teachers would be scheduled for after school hours.
SECOND SHOTS LEADING TO SOME REACTIONS
Nelson brought up the subject of adverse reactions to the vaccines.
“After the second-round clinic, we have been hearing of a few people who did fine during their first shot,” Mueller said, “but now they got their second shot and they ran fever the first night, but not the next day.”
Headaches and sore arms have also been reported. Mueller said some law enforcement officers called in sick the day after getting the shot.