Without More Supply, COVID-19 Vaccine Roll-out Could Take Months

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: COVID-19

The last two COVID-positive residents of Liberty Commons were deemed recovered Sunday, and the nursing home expects to close down its isolation unit shortly. The photo was posted on Liberty Commons’ Facebook page. COURTESY PHOTO

It’s simple math: the county is typically receiving just under 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each week. There are an estimated 10,000 Cape residents aged 75 and older, and each will need two doses of the vaccine. Unless the supply of vaccine increases markedly, it won’t be until June that all 20,000 doses are administered and the vaccine can begin going to seniors 65 and older.

“It’s a system that pits everyone over the age of 75 against one another,” Chatham Board of Health member Richard Edwards said Monday. When only those with computers and adequate transportation can get vaccinated, “what you end up with is survival of the fittest,” he said.

Officials at every level of government say the vaccine supplies will be increasing in the weeks ahead, but for now, demand continues to vastly outstrip supply. At 9 a.m. Tuesday, registration opened for two clinics on the Cape, including one on the Lower Cape. With a total of 1,365 appointments available at the Hyannis site and 375 in Eastham, registration was filled before 11 a.m.

“Keep in mind, folks, we only have about 1,700 doses between those two clinics available, and as we know there are tens of thousands of potentially eligible people on Cape Cod,” Chatham Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson told the health board. “We’re still battling the shortage of the vaccine.”

Orleans continues to host vaccination clinics for health care providers and others in Phase 1 of the state’s roll-out plan, Health Agent Bob Canning told the select board last week. The clinic at the DPW building has administered 1,300 doses, with six more clinics to follow to provide second doses. Canning said the clinics have been flooded by people who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and must be turned away.

“The region is ready and infrastructure is in place to quickly and safely administer vaccinations,” said Cape and Islands State Sen. Julian Cyr, D–Truro, speaking on behalf of the Cape Cod COVID Response Task Force last week. The county held a public conference call last week which provided vaccine information to tens of thousands of senior citizens. As of earlier this month, nearly 11,000 first doses of the vaccine had been administered on Cape Cod, with more than 5,000 second doses. Cyr said the figure doesn’t include vaccines provided by CVS, Walgreens or Stop & Shop, who either declined to provide their vaccination numbers or didn’t respond to his request. “That was discouraging,” he said.

While the inventory is something local and county officials cannot control, all the doses received by local officials are being administered, he said.

“This is a temporary, frustrating obstacle,” Cyr said. “We expect that the situation will improve as we acquire more vaccine.”

As of early this week, some vaccine appointments could still be made at large off-Cape vaccine clinics in places like Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium, for those older seniors with suitable transportation. Sign-ups for all vaccine clinics can be done at mass.gov/CovidVaccine, and those without computer access can get help signing up for appointments by calling 211. Barnstable County is also continuing to operate its COVID help line at 774-330-3001, and has a system for notifying people about new vaccine clinics by email; for details, visit www.BarnstableCountyHealth.org.

Chatham Health Agent Judith Giorgio said plans are also underway with Wise Living and the Chatham Housing Authority to provide on-site vaccinations for residents, hopefully in the next week or two. “Like everything else, it’s contingent on vaccine availability,” she said.

At all levels, COVID-19 case numbers continue to generally decline. As of Sunday, Barnstable County was reporting 9,302 cumulative cases, an increase of 83 over the previous day. That was the smallest daily increase in the previous five days. Duncanson said the numbers are still erratic.

“We may not be completely over the last bit of the surge from the holidays here on Cape Cod,” he said. As of Sunday, 354 deaths had been attributed to the pandemic.

As of Friday, the Monomoy Regional School District was reporting four cases at Chatham Elementary, none at Harwich Elementary, five at the middle school and three at the high school. All Chatham Elementary students were temporarily learning remotely, as were 11 other classes across several schools and grades.

“We have made the decision to pivot all Chatham Elementary School students to remote learning for the week of Feb. 8-12, leading up to break. This is a precautionary measure because the number of positive cases has risen too high to make in-person learning there feasible and safe,” Superintendent Scott Carpenter wrote in his update to parents on Feb. 4. “Our other schools are teetering on the edge and could see a similar fate if the dynamic doesn't change.” Carpenter urged families to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease during February break.

The district is preparing to take part in a new system of pooled COVID-19 testing, which will collect nasal swabs from groups of students and test them in batches, providing early warning of asymptomatic cases. School officials planned to send a consent form to parents shortly, and urged all families to allow their students to participate.

There was some good news from Liberty Commons nursing home, which saw a surge in COVID-19 cases in December and January, with a number of fatalities. On Sunday, the last two COVID-positive residents were deemed recovered and were moved out of the facility’s isolation unit, CEO Bill Bogdanovich reported.

“Since the start of the pandemic, some 75 have recovered in our care – a number that’s easy to lose track of in headlines and politicking. We sadly also mourn the loss of 13 residents to this insidious virus,” he wrote in a message to families. “We hope we were able to comfort you and your families through it all. We shift our focus to the future, as we prepare to reopen the inpatient rehab program – hopefully before this coming week ends. We believe we’ve met the DPH criteria, including two deficiency-free infection control inspections during the course of the outbreak. Once we are 14 days without a new positive case – we’re at about day 10 right now – the final criteria should be satisfied.”

Tim Wood and Ed Maroney contributed to this story.