Vaccine distribution fraught with uncertainty

‘We don’t know what we’re going to get for the vaccine the next week’ 

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Nevadans age 70 and older are now eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, as are essential frontline personnel such as teachers, government employees, hospitality and transportation workers.      

But getting the shot may be a challenge. 

The state has modified its vaccination playbook for the third time, creating parallel “lanes” that allow seniors to be inoculated at the same time as first responders and other workers who qualify because of occupations that require close and sustained interaction with the public. But supply is limited and unpredictable, officials warn.  

“Our goal is not to miss anyone who wants the vaccine as we roll through this, but it’s going to take time,” Clark County Commissioner Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said Wednesday during a media briefing with Southern Nevada Health District officials. “We don’t know what we’re going to get for the vaccine the next week.” 

Kirkpatrick says the uncertainty of the federal allocation is complicating planning and distribution efforts.  

In the last month, more than 29,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in Southern Nevada, including to “all hospital employees that have asked…” according to Acting Chief Medical Officer Fermin Leguen.  Second doses are currently being offered.  The Health District says it’s received 70,450 doses to date.   

Leguen says he expects distribution of the vaccine to ramp up to 40,000 to 45,000 a week in the coming weeks.   

SNHD is offering vaccines at its main location at 280 S. Decatur and at Western High School. The valley’s first vaccination “megapod” opens Thursday at Cashman Field, with another slated to open at the Las Vegas Convention Center in several weeks, Leguen says.  

 “If you don’t have an appointment, don’t come to the Health District,” Kirkpatrick implored residents. “As we ramp up we’ll have many avenues.”

She assured Southern Nevadans planning for the effort has been in the works for the last year and compared the COVID-19 vaccination rollout to annual campaigns for the flu vaccine, only on a much larger scale.

“If you make an appointment, please show up,” she added, noting that “less than ten” doses of the vaccine “have had some type of flaw” and could not be administered. “We don’t want to waste it.” 

Officials did not say how many health care personnel are needed to administer 40,000 to 45,000 vaccinations a week, nor how they will be paid.  

Pharmacies at Smith’s and Walgreen’s are also scheduled to offer vaccinations beginning January 20.  

A list of vaccination locations and links for appointments can be found on the SNHD website.

In Northern Nevada, the Washoe County Health District is working with Renown Health, which will begin offering the vaccination Thursday to residents age 70 and older.  

Unlike Southern Nevada, residents in Washoe County have the option of a drive-thru vaccination process. Appointments can be made by visiting Renown MyChart

Clark County Fire Chief John Steinbeck says a variety of sites are being considered that would allow Southern Nevadans to be vaccinated while remaining in their vehicles.  

All Nevada residents, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for vaccination. 

“We don’t ask for immigration information,” Leguen said. But those seeking the vaccine will be asked to provide proof they live in Nevada.  

Currently, the second dose of the vaccine is being held until needed by the federal government. But Leguen cited news reports indicating President-elect Joe Biden intends to release all available doses upon taking office.  

As of Wednesday, 3,551 people have died in Nevada of COVID-19. The Nevada Hospital Association reports 1,690 patients with confirmed cases are hospitalized and another 94 patients are suspected of having the disease.  

Hospital occupancy rates are hovering between 82 and 85 percent. Intensive care unit occupancy is at 74 percent statewide and 82 percent in Southern Nevada.  

St. Rose San Martin, a Dignity Health hospital, announced a surge in patients over the weekend resulted in a disaster declaration.  The hospital was at 121 percent of general capacity, and 137 percent of ICU capacity, according to a news release.

State officials said Wednesday they’ve yet to detect more contagious variants of the coronavirus in specimens sequenced at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, which has analyzed more than 800 tests for the UK variant and more than 100 specimens for the South African variant.  

Dana Gentry
Senior Reporter | 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, a grandson, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.