Just two weeks after extending COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to workers in Southern Nevada’s huge casino and hotel industry, officials are again having trouble keeping appointments.
About 78,000 Clark County residents received a first dose of vaccine during the week ending Tuesday. That’s a more than 20 percent drop from the previous week, according to the Southern Nevada Health District weekly update.
Although local officials expect an “ebb and flow” in vaccine demand, Clark County Fire Marshal John Steinbeck said he was surprised the numbers had fallen so quickly after members of the dominant industry from the region became eligible.
“Our expectation was that it would fill in all the blanks,” Steinbeck, who helps lead the county’s vaccine operations, said of the recent eligibility expansion.
March has proven to be a challenging month for Southern Nevada vaccination efforts, even as the federal government has increased the state’s weekly allocation of the first and second doses.
Earlier this month, health district officials reported that thousands of vaccination appointment spaces were empty. Days later, state officials opened eligibility to the region’s food service and hospitality workers, a massive category in the gaming and tourism sectors of the Las Vegas economy.
The county is now back with open appointments.
300 thawed doses threatened
Low turnout at the Las Vegas Convention Center mass vaccination site over the weekend threatened the expiration of 300 thawed doses, said health district health official Dr. Fermín Leguen. Officials opened the site on Monday, when it is generally closed, to offer leftover vaccines to walk-ins.
The county’s two mass vaccination sites have accepted more than 5,000 walk-ins for the first doses this month, data from the health district shows.
During a health district meeting Thursday, board member Olivia Diaz said she believed the state’s new vaccine naming system was contributing to the problem.
“I think it’s really imperative that we as a health district remove the barriers rather than put them in place,” he said. “The vaccination appointment system is not very user friendly.”
JoAnn Rupiper, director of clinical services for the health district, told the board that the appointment system was “working through mistakes.” He said the health district is accepting more walk-ins to help sites reach capacity, including people who are currently ineligible.
“When a person is in front of you, you vaccinate them,” he said. “Do not wait. Because if they wait, they may never come back. “
Overall, more than 555,000 county residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and more than 290,000 are fully vaccinated.
Despite the recent drop in new vaccines, the county plans to adhere to the state plan of waiting until April 5 to open eligibility to all Nevadans ages 16 and older, the county commission chair said Monday, Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
“We have around 176,000 hospitality workers, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to come and go,” he said.
Low demand also on smaller sites
Smaller government-run Southern Nevada vaccination sites also have trouble keeping appointments.
To make vaccinations more convenient, North Las Vegas this week has started offering appointments on its College of Southern Nevada site until 8 p.m., City Manager Ryann Juden said. The city had ended at 3:30 pm.
“We are a 24-hour city,” Juden said. “We wanted to adapt more to that reality.”
An official from UNLV Medicine said their vaccination appointments were only halfway through before eligibility opened for hospitality workers. Citations have increased, but not to the expected levels.
The two UNLV sites combined can accommodate more than 2,000 people a day. On Wednesday, the sites had about 1,600 scheduled appointments, said Dr. Michael Gardner, president and CEO of UNLV Medicine, the medical practice of the UNLV School of Medicine.
Gardner said he hopes eligibility will be expanded again. You are not worried about sites getting overwhelmed.
“My biggest fear is that the doubts about vaccines are still very real and … we are not getting the number of people we want to get vaccinated,” he said. “I think there is a lot of misinformation out there. I think we live in a time and an era in which there is a lot of distrust ”.
County officials have been working to increase vaccinations in minority communities by addressing mistrust and hesitancy.
This week, they unveiled the “Back to Life” campaign, which aims to curb vaccine concerns through multimedia and community outreach. Uber has volunteered to drive distribution sites from the county’s 10 worst-hit zip codes.
A similar and longer-term program for the region’s Latino population, “Está en Tus Manos” (“It’s in your hands”), seems to be working. About three times the number of Latinos who have been vaccinated in March compared to February.
Pharmacies say they are full of people
Meanwhile, open appointments do not appear to be a problem for Southern Nevada pharmacies that provide COVID-19 vaccines. Neighborhood pharmacies can be more convenient for many than mass vaccination sites, which often have waits of an hour or more.
The number of injections given each week increased by nearly 10,000 earlier this month after high-risk residents 55 and older became eligible for vaccinations at pharmacies. The number stayed about the same last week, after pharmacies were accused of vaccinating residents 16 and older with certain medical conditions that put them at risk for complications from COVID-19.
Appointments fill up quickly at Smith’s 35 southern Nevada pharmacies, which have administered more than 30,000 doses of vaccine, said Dan Heller, coordinator of health and wellness pharmacy practices for the region.
Smith’s dozens of pharmacies in the region are poised to double the number of injections they can administer per day, Heller said. The chain is expecting to receive more vaccines from the state through the federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
“We just haven’t had the allocation yet to accomplish what the state is giving us right now, but we expect that to change significantly in the coming weeks,” Heller said.