MOUNT VERNON – When Knox Public Health began vaccinating the general public against COVID-19 in January, supply was slim and eligibility was limited.
The health department was receiving roughly 200 doses per week from the state, and only senior citizens were eligible to receive the vaccine, as they were deemed most at-risk for serious complications from the virus.
Two months later, however, the dynamic has changed.
Ohio is set to receive 571,000 doses from the federal government, roughly 20 percent more than its usual allotment. As a result, Knox Public Health is scheduled to receive 1,100 doses next week – more than twice what it's been receiving over the last month. This coincides with the state's decision to open up vaccine eligibility to anyone age 16 or older beginning next Monday.
As vaccine production ramps up and eligibility widens, the health department has had to reconsider its distribution structure.
"In the beginning, the majority of the people that the clinics were open to were people that were retired – people that can come into a clinic at any time, whether it’s an appointment or a walk-in," KPH spokeswoman Pam Palm said. The health department has held first-dose vaccine clinics each Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. since late January.
"Now, we’re dealing with people who are working," she continued, "and so not everybody can take off in the middle of the day or come in on their lunch hour to be able to get a vaccine."
This led KPH to announce its first evening vaccination clinic – next Wednesday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Knox County Career Center (306 Martinsburg Road) – in hopes of reaching the working-class population.
"That way people can stop in and get a vaccine after work," Palm said.
KPH will still hold its traditional daytime walk-in clinic next Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mount Vernon's Energy Fieldhouse (101 Yellow Jacket Drive). And the health department will still administer second doses that Friday, as it's done since January.
But the first-dose vaccine clinic on Wednesday night is new, and according to Palm, it could be a sign of things to come. As supply increases in the coming weeks, Palm said KPH will likely expand its vaccination efforts by offering clinics at alternative hours.
"We’re looking at conducting some vaccine clinics that are in the evening and on the weekend, to be able to give these people an opportunity," she said.
The health department is currently working with local law enforcement, emergency personnel, and volunteer healthcare providers to safely distribute hundreds of vaccine doses each week. As of Thursday, KPH had administered 5,920 first doses and 4,500 second doses, according to its website.
"None of it’s been wasted," Palm said of the county's vaccine supply.
Knox County Health Commissioner Julie Miller said the health department is not looking to add vaccinators during this time, given the current staff's level of productivity with the supply it's been allocated.
"We may have to use other POD (points of distribution) sites depending on the days we will provide vaccine. I don't anticipate adding vaccinators, as we have had incredible support from our EMS and (Knox Community Hospital) partners," Miller said in an email.
"Please be aware that our 'throughput' for COVID vaccine has been 125 to 150 people an hour (sometimes more), which means we can serve 600 people in four hours with five to six vaccinators."
According to the Ohio Department of Health, nearly 22 percent of Knox County (13,633 residents) has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Roughly 60 percent of the county's senior-citizen population has been inoculated, and progress is now being made in younger age groups. As of Friday, 27 percent of those age 50-59 have received a shot, alongside 18 percent of those age 40-49.
Those planning to attend Wednesday night's walk-in vaccination clinic are encouraged to enter the Career Center through the south entrance, near the basketball courts. Parking will be available at the front of the Career Center and at Mount Vernon High School next door.
Those with mobility issues are encouraged to notify the parking attendant, who will direct them to the curbside vaccination location.
Just like the daytime clinics, doses will be available Wednesday night on a first-come, first-serve basis. No appointment is needed, and vaccines will be administered until all doses are gone, the health department said in a press release. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be offered at both walk-in clinics next Wednesday.
Clinic attendees will need to bring a photo ID and a copy of their insurance card. There are no out-of-pocket costs for the vaccine.
For individuals age 16 or 17, a parent or guardian must be present to complete registration at the time of vaccination, KPH stated. Additionally, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be available, as it is the only federally approved vaccine for individuals age 16 or older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently only approved for those age 18 or older.
While Knox Public Health is currently the only local provider offering walk-in vaccination clinics, several others are vaccinating by appointment-only. Knox Community Hospital is administering the vaccine, as well as Conway's Danville Pharmacy, Conway's Eastside Pharmacy, Foster's Pharmacy, Kroger Pharmacy, and Rite Aid in Fredericktown. Click here for a full list of local vaccine providers and their contact information.