Shot in the arm? 1 in 4 COVID vaccines administered in Nevada 

By: - January 6, 2021 12:20 pm

Dr. David Obert receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination at University Medical Center in Las Vegas in December. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Nevada is slightly lagging the U.S. in administering the COVID-19 vaccine, but not alone when it comes to economically ravaged states struggling to regain normalcy. 

Nationally, as of Tuesday, some 17,020,575 vaccine doses have been delivered to states and 4,836,469 inoculations, or about 28 percent, have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Nevada has received 142,525 doses and recorded 34,549 inoculations, or just under 25 percent. 

Gov. Steve Sisolak praised the rollout and said last week that delays in entering data may be creating a lag in reporting. 

“This vaccine rollout is unprecedented in nature,” Sisolak said at a virtual news conference on Dec. 30. “The same team of folks who you’ve seen doing vaccination rollout is doing everything — testing, data analysis and coordinating. They now have added the complex logistical challenge of vaccine distribution to their plates.”

The state’s vaccine Playbook says COVID-19 vaccination providers must understand:

  • How to order and receive COVID-19 vaccine
  • COVID-19 vaccine storage and handling (including transport requirements/restrictions)
  • How to administer vaccine, including reconstitution, use of adjuvants, appropriate needle size, anatomic sites for vaccine administration, avoiding shoulder injury with vaccine administration, etc.
  • How to document and report vaccine administration via NV WebIZ
  • How to manage vaccine inventory, including accessing and managing product expiration dates
  • How to report and manage COVID-19 vaccine inventory using NV WebIZ
  • How to manage and report temperature excursions in vaccine storage units
  • How to document, report, and properly dispose of or return unused COVID-19 vaccine
  • How to document and report vaccine wastage/spoilage

“Provider training is vital to ensure the success of Nevada’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program,” says the Playbook.

State and local health officials were unable to say how many providers have been trained.

Sisolak said states are stretched thin and noted the stimulus measure signed into law last week has “support for vaccine rollout.”

But that support is thus far a trickle.

“We have received approximately $150,000 from the state via the Feds specifically for vaccines,” Washoe County Health District Scott Oxarart said via email.

“We are expecting some additional funding specifically to support our vaccination efforts,” said Jennifer Sizemore of the Southern Nevada Health District. “However, we do not know the final amounts at this time.”

As of Monday, 3,235 Nevadans had died of COVID-19 since March 2020, according to the state website.  Nevada has confirmed more than 235,000 cases of the disease.

The first vaccinations were administered in Nevada to nursing home staff and residents in December. Currently, medical personnel, first responders, and home health care workers are receiving the vaccine.  

“Even in the healthcare field there are people who don’t want it,” says Dr. Michael Levin, a Las Vegas pediatrician who conducted the local Phase 3 trials for the Moderna vaccine.  “They are making room for others who do want it.” 

Levin expects naysayers to come around after colleagues in healthcare receive the vaccine.

Aside from “regulatory, bureaucratic nonsense” in obtaining an appointment — difficulty getting through to the Southern Nevada Health District and a website that crashed — Levin says he and others from his practice were able to receive the vaccine Tuesday morning. 

“I’m impressed with the fact that it’s Jan. 5, and they (health officials) have it out,” Levin says. “I think what they are doing is a fairly gargantuan task.”  

“It was a very smooth process. It was less than an hour,” he says. “The thing is, right now there are no more appointments. Not everyone who wanted it was able to get it.” 

A CDC advisory calls for front-line essential workers, such as grocery clerks, transportation workers, and child care providers, and seniors 75 and older to be next in line for the vaccine. 

Nevadans aged 65 to 74 will be in the third tier of vaccinations. 

Sisolak said he expects to follow the CDC guidelines but won’t rule out deviating.

“We will take all factors into account — Our workforce, our economy, our aged population,” Sisolak said on Dec. 30.

It’s unknown whether the state considers casino workers to be essential. 

Nevada has received 4,627 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per 100,000 residents and has administered it to 1,122 per 100,000 residents.  By contrast, Alaska received 10,416 doses per 100,000 residents and has administered the vaccine to 2,604 per 100,000 residents.   

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports racial factors could influence distribution of the vaccine. Influenza vaccination rates in 2018-19 were highest among whites (49 percent), followed by Asians (44 percent), Blacks (39 percent) American Indian or Alaskan Native (38 percent) and Hispanics (37 percent.)

On Monday, FDA officials discussed cutting the Moderna vaccine dose in order to inoculate more individuals.  

Levin says the trials had a number of patients who were “out of the window” for a variety of reasons and able to receive only one dose of the vaccine. 

“Some people had health issues that prevented them from getting the second dose in time,” he says. “So, if they are discussing changing the dose, they are doing it with knowledge of what a single dose would entail.”

Levin says the trials involved such large numbers that the data of people who received one dose “is being mined and used. I don’t think it’s being done haphazardly.” 

The Washoe County Health District announced Tuesday it has administered about 5,500 vaccines of 8,370 allocated. Hospitals, emergency medical service providers, fire departments and other health care providers in Washoe County received another 12,390 doses.  It’s unknown how many have been administered.

The WCHD is serving six traffic lanes which feed to 12 vaccination bays at maximum capacity.

“In total, 12 nurses can vaccinate at the same time. On average, each nurse has been able to vaccinate about 17 people per hour, for a total of 204 vaccination per hour. We’re constantly working to improve efficiencies,” the Health District said in a news release.

Persuading Nevadans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 may be challenging for state and local health officials.

Nevada reported the lowest vaccination rate in the country during the 2018-19 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 37.8 percent of people 6 months or older received a seasonal flu vaccine. (For comparison, on the opposite end of the spectrum, 60.4 percent of Rhode Islanders received a seasonal flu vaccine.)

Nevada also had the lowest flu vaccination rates in 2016, 2015, 2013 and 2011.

Weeks before vaccines arrived in Nevada, a member of the governor’s medical advisory team predicted that in addition to hesitancy, an understaffed public health infrastructure and other logistical challenges would make distribution in the state “extraordinarily difficult.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.