COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio healthcare providers are bracing for ramped up COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the coming weeks.
Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced stepped up production of the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and said every American adult will have access to a COVID-19 shot by the end of May.
Addressing concerns about a bottleneck in administering the vaccine, the president discussed mitigating potential staffing shortages at vaccine sites by enlisting help from the U.S. military and FEMA and opening federally run clinics.
In Central Ohio, many providers began addressing staffing concerns before they became a reality. In the fall, EMTs with the Columbus Division of Fire began assisting Columbus Public Health with the flu shot, in preparation for a larger-scale COVID-19 distribution.
“Really it just allows us to move people through faster. So the nurse can do the documentation and the electronic health record on the computer and the paramedic can actually do the injections,” explained Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.
The Columbus Division of Fire routinely provides more than a dozen EMTs for the city’s drive-thru vaccination site at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
“It’s the perfect partnership,” said Captain Douglas Hart.
Hart explained the medically certified crew members are compensated but volunteer their time to help at the vaccination center.
“It’s in lock step with our mission and value statements. First and foremost is protection of life,” he said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, CPH employed roughly 450 people. More recently, the number has grown to close to 600, largely due to CARES Act funding allocated for hiring. Dr. Roberts said the agency has also consolidated some of its other programs and shuffled staffing into the vaccination efforts. In anticipation of the stepped-up distribution, she said CPH also started contracting with the state to hire more nurses.
“It has been a challenge, but we have risen to that challenge by hiring more people and we have the capability of hiring even more if need be,” she said.
Large private providers have been leveraging their existing staff to meet the spiking demand for the vaccine.
“There is a huge team behind the scenes from every area you can imagine. There’s administration, there’s scheduling, there’s operations,” explained Dr. Genevieve Messick, the medical director for associate health at OhioHealth.
OhioHealth operates nearly a dozen vaccination sites across the region and received one of the state’s largest allocations of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine Tuesday. Dr. Messick said one of the biggest challenges has been the logistics of scheduling patients and allocating resources within a short time frame.
She explained the state and hospital system learn how many doses they’ll receive just several days before a shipment arrives. Providers are expected to use all of the allocated doses within 7 days of their delivery.
“It’s kind of like saying, ‘Well you’re going to have between 10 and 200 people at your wedding. We’ll tell you Tuesday and the wedding is next Tuesday,” she said.
Medical and pharmacy professionals, residents, students and even administrative staff have all pivoted to help with the distribution. Soon, OhioHealth expects to administer more than 10,000 doses on a weekly basis. Team members must learn the nuance of each new vaccine and each new phase of Ohio’s vaccine rollout.
“There’s actually a lot of education and training that had to go into the vaccinators. And as we scale up, that needs to spread to anybody new who’s giving the vaccine,” Dr Messick said.
Many healthcare workers view the challenge as an historic effort.
“It’s been a great lesson in team effort and people stretching across different areas where they might not have been used to working, but are willing to jump in and learn something new,” Dr. Messick said.
Franklin County has been supplementing its staff from EMS agencies, as well as the Franklin County and Columbus Medical Reserve Corps. So far, a spokesperson said, staffing shortages have not become a challenge.
MRC, managed locally by Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security, currently has a roster of 2,600 medical and non-medical volunteers.
Operations and Resource Manager Chris Williams explained the agency works with Franklin County Public Health to supply volunteers on a weekly basis. He said anyone who passes the vetting process is eligible to volunteer. Those without medical expertise can help with clerical work, registration and crowd control.
For more information about volunteering with the vaccine distribution, click here.