GEORGETOWN — More than 11,000 seniors received COVID-19 vaccinations in massive drive-through events in Georgetown and Delaware City on Jan. 22-24.
The three-day events were aimed almost exclusively at senior citizens as Delaware moved into Phase 1B of vaccinations. Some 2,000 vaccinations were also earmarked for frontline healthcare workers who had not yet been vaccinated.
Health care officials were cheered by the willingness of people to sign up for the Moderna vaccine, which is given in two doses. The second portion of the injection can be given up to 42 days after the first dose and does not have to be given at the same site where people received their first shot.
Officials could not make appointments for the second portion because so much still depends upon when enough supply of the vaccine will be available.
But it remained clear that demand continues to far outstrip supply and many Delawareans will have to simply try to stay safe and wait. Officials said 13,154 vaccinations were given by appointment during the three days — 82,000 people signed up to receive vaccination appointments.
Saturday’s Georgetown event at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. With the waiting line backing up, officials began giving vaccines at 8:30 a.m. to satisfy demand.
“They are so excited, so grateful to get it. We’re celebrating the excitement of people who want to get the vaccine,” said Division of Public Health (DPH) Office of Health and Risk Communication Section Chief Andrea Wojcik.
She asked the public to be patient. “It has all been new. It has been new from beginning to end.”
Wojcik also urged people to continue to social distance and wear masks and wash hands for now, saying the vaccine is just one tool. “We will get there, but that too will take time.”
She said there are active attempts to counter myths about the vaccine, including concern about the speed with which it was developed. While it was produced very quickly, the MessengerRNA or mRNA technology was first developed when SARS was a threat, she said. SARS faded as a public health concern, but scientists were able to build upon the work in order to develop this vaccine, she said.
The vaccine does not contain a microchip. It is not a live vaccine and cannot give anyone COVID-19, she said.
There have also been concerns in communities of color that they could be used as potential “guinea pigs,” she said.
“Please tell us what your concerns are,” she said.
Hundreds of volunteers from Beebe Medical Center, the Department of Motor Vehicles, Sussex and New Castle County EMS, state police, national guard, Delaware Emergency Management Agency, Delaware Medical Reserve Corps, ChristianaCare, the Department of Technology and Information and others stepped up in the cold weekend weather.
“We cannot say enough good about their (DelDOT) teams,” said Wojick.
The frosty weather was one of several glitches on Saturday, but things ran more smoothly on Sunday. Temperatures dipped to 18 degrees on Saturday morning and forced staffers to use paperwork since batteries in the electronics could not hold a charge.
“The issues Saturday were not what we planned, not what we wanted to see, and certainly not what we wanted our residents to experience,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, citing delays in the process. “Sunday went much more smoothly and was more the event we intended to have. It was a learning experience and, most importantly, we extended the first dose of vaccine protection to more than 11,000 Delawareans.”
Invitations to make appointments for these events were extended with highest priority for the limited slots going to individuals with age and health conditions that put them at greater risk of COVID-19 incidence or mortality. Approximately 200,000 Delawareans are eligible for vaccination in Phase 1B, which will focus heavily on vaccinating those 65-and-older first.
The emails issued to seniors who requested vaccination and met the higher-risk criteria came from VAMS, the Vaccine Administration Management System, created by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for use in multiple states. The email contained an individualized link and instructions.
Those who scheduled an appointment received a confirmation email with a QR code they can print or show on a mobile device at the vaccination event, eliminating the step of filling out an immunization reporting record form. This pre-submitted information will also expedite reporting to the DelVAX system used to track vaccinations.
Some seniors without computer access who utilized the DPH call center to make their request were called back Thursday to arrange the appointment if they met the risk criteria.
“We are pleased that we will be able to focus on vaccinating thousands of our most vulnerable residents this weekend, and that we will be able to do so in an organized and efficient way,” said Dr. Rattay. “For everyone else, we thank them for making requests and we are planning the ways to reach them in future weeks as more vaccine doses become available from the federal government.”
Those individuals still on the request waiting list are reminded that they must wait to receive an appointment invitation for a vaccination event listed in VAMS. A place on the waiting list does not a secure a spot for a vaccination anywhere else such as pharmacies or medical providers that may be offering them.
Even after individuals have submitted their initial request in the state’s online system, if they do get an opportunity to receive a vaccine from their medical provider, employer, or pharmacy, they are advised to take advantage of it, according to DPH.
Also on Jan. 21, a list of pharmacies and medical providers accepting public requests for vaccination was added to http://de.gov/covidvaccine by following the link “Find Where to Get Vaccinated.” Vaccines available through pharmacy stores and medical providers are currently only for persons 65-and-older. Pharmacies are asking those 65 and older to schedule an appointment using their online systems. They are not accepting appointment requests by walk-in or over the phone. Additional information about COVID-19 vaccine rollout is available at de.gov/covidvaccine.
Questions can be directed to the Vaccine Call Center at 1-833-643-1715. People who are hearing impaired should call 2-1-1 or text their ZIP code to 898-211. Individuals can email their questions concerning the vaccine to Vaccine@Delaware.gov.
Delawareans over the age of 18 are encouraged to download COVID Alert DE, Delaware’s free exposure notification app to help protect your neighbors while ensuring your privacy. Download on the App Store or Google Play. For the latest on Delaware’s response, go to de.gov/coronavirus