Ellis Co. gets 300 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for public

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Ellis County Health Services director Jason Kennedy opens the freezer at the health department office on Friday and removes a 10-vial box of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Ellis County Health Services director Jason Kennedy opens the reusable thermal storage box from McKesson for shipping Moderna vaccine to the health department office.

Inoculation against COVID-19 for the general public starts Tuesday afternoon, thanks to arrival this past week of 300 doses of vaccine at the Ellis County Health Department.

The department is making appointments now for the first 300, said Ellis County Health Services director Jason Kennedy of the first shipment to his office at 2507 Canterbury Dr.

The 300 will be chosen from the several thousand already registered on the health department’s website. A software program sorts the 300 by Gov. Laura Kelly’s Phase 2 criteria. Priority goes to those who answer yes to two out of three questions: 65 or older, working in a critical infrastructure job and living in group housing.

This is the first of what is expected to be weekly arrivals of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. There is no charge for the shots.

“We’re talking thousands of people in our community that are in the Phase 2 criteria,” Kennedy said. “We will not be able to serve that entire population with 300 doses, it’s just not possible. But we will hopefully receive weekly shipments of vaccine.”

While 300 doses is minimal, it was still cause to celebrate at the health department.

“The whole staff, we all understand the gravity of this situation, so we honestly treat it like a brick of gold,” Kennedy said Friday at his office. “When it shows up, we're all super-excited.”

The vaccine is shipped with an indicator tag, so the first order of business is to open the box and make sure the required cold temperature was maintained. 

“We're like an excited kid at Christmas,” he said. “We open that box and we want to see everything right because we want that vaccine for the community.”

The vaccine was directly shipped via UPS to the health department from health care supplier’s McKesson new cold chain technology facility in Lebanon, Tenn.

It arrived in an insulated cardboard box, embedded in multiple thermal layers surrounded by re-usable cold packs. Each box of vaccine contains 10 vials, and each vial holds 10 doses. So a box of 300 doses is smaller than a brick of Velveeta cheese.

“It’s less than impressive when it shows up,” said Kennedy of the small boxes.

From there, it’s kept frozen in the department’s freezer at minus-22.6 degrees Fahrenheit, until the day before it’s needed. Health officials deliver it to the vaccination site in a hard-sided cold storage cooler provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

After the cap is opened to give the first shot, the remaining doses must be given within six hours.

“That is why it’s imperative that people show up for their appointments,” Kennedy said, “because we will not waste vaccine.”

Vaccines will be administered at the empty Gordmans’ retail space in Big Creek Crossing, with entrance through the outside west doors at the north end of the mall.

Inside, manning three different stations will be staff from the health department, First Care Clinic, HaysMed, the physician’s offices of Knoll Clinic and Hess Clinic, and Ellis County Emergency Services.

Starting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, people will check in, get their shot, then wait at the EMS recovery station to be observed for 15 minutes. Kennedy estimates 50 shots an hour.

“At the end of the day if we have a few doses, we will literally just start going through our prioritization list that we already have, and we'll call number 301, ‘Can you be here in 15 minutes?’ If they can't, then we'll go to 302, then 303,” he said. “We'll just keep working on that list.”

People getting the first shot will schedule their second shot at that time.

KDHE has said shipments will be sent weekly.

KDHE says that on Tuesdays, the federal government will notify KDHE of the available vaccine for Kansas. On Wednesdays, KDHE notifies local health departments by 3 p.m. how many doses they are likely to get. On Thursdays, KDHE puts together their final list of an order. On Fridays, KDHE submits the order. Direct shipments arrive Mondays or Tuesdays of the next week.

“That's why we've picked Tuesday afternoons, Wednesdays and Thursdays to vaccinate, because we hopefully will always receive our vaccine,” said Kennedy, noting the health department is striving for just-in-time vaccination so vaccine isn’t sitting around.

Appointments will be scheduled 24 hours in advance, and will be pushed back if the vaccine doesn’t arrive on time.

“We want to be really, really sure that the vaccine is going to be here before we put a bunch of people on the schedule,” Kennedy said. “We are going to need some patience from the public, this next couple of weeks … If the shipment’s always here on Monday, then we can start scheduling appointments out a little longer and giving people a little bit more lead time.”

It’s his hope that future shipments will be a lot larger. If that’s the case, the medical community will be prepared at Big Creek Crossing, he said.

“We can scale it to really any speed that we need, just more people, more stations,” he said. “We have the space, we have the flow, so I think we can scale to do a lot of vaccines.”

In the event of thousands of doses, Kennedy said, if the mall operation isn’t sufficient, then additional clinics can be added.