Limited coronavirus vaccine supply prevents area health providers from vaccinating next phase

Mercy Hospital and McDonald County Health Department hold clinics for seniors, at risk.

JOPLIN, Mo. – It was a big day for Joplin resident Nikki Straw, as she took the first step toward protecting herself from COVID-19.

“I’m just glad we finally got it, cause I’ve been nervous about that,” says Straw.

She was one of many residents to receive their first dose of coronavirus vaccines at Mercy Hospital on Monday, as the state moves into Phase 1B Tier 2 of the vaccine distribution plan.

“I’m very excited about getting this shot,” says Straw. “I’ve been worried about it because I have an autoimmune disease. It gets us closer to some kind of a life.”

Phase 1B Tier 2 of the state vaccine plan includes residents who are 65 and older, and residents of any age that have underlying health conditions like cancer, COPD, type two diabetes, pregnancy, or developmental disabilities.

At Mercy Hospital, they started vaccinating residents in that group on Monday, using a shipment of vaccines they received on January 13th.

Hospital officials say it’s a big step in the right direction.

“I think the vaccine represents a lot of hope for many in being able to be back out in the community more, being able to be around their family,” says Sarah Boyd, Director for Pharmacy for Mercy Hospital Joplin.

But, Mercy Hospital is just about the only healthcare provider in our area being able to provide vaccinations for this group.

“I mean, it is not automatic that you get it,” says Dr. Dennis Estep, Chief Medical Officer for Freeman Health System.

Dr. Dennis Estep explains that the hospital continues to order vaccines through the state every week. But, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed a shipment, or the amount that they order.

Their most recent order hasn’t come in yet — meaning they can’t start vaccinations in Phase 1B Tier 2 — and they don’t know when they will come in.

“You send them [the state department of health] information and very seldom do you ever get any response back,” explains Estep. “We were still working on Phase 1b Tier 1. We had not finished that, so we still have people on our 1B Tier 1 that we’re still trying to give it to. We also even still have some 1A that we’re trying to finish up with.”

Freeman Health System isn’t the only healthcare provider that’s had trouble getting vaccines.

We reached out to several of our local health departments and hospital systems Monday, to see if they had received enough vaccines to start Phase 1B Tier 2. Here’s what we found out:

The Joplin Health Department has not received their shipment yet.

The Jasper County Health Department was closed for the holiday, but in response to questions on their Facebook page, they say they will start calling residents on their waiting list when they receive vaccines. The same goes for the Newton, Barton, and Vernon County Health Departments.

Cox Health, which operates Cox Barton County Hospital, as well as hospitals in Springfield, is in the same boat.

They tell us in a statement, “At this time, CoxHealth is still awaiting information from the state about the number of COVID-19 vaccines we will receive for our patients in the 1B category. Our staff is aggressively developing a plan so we are ready to administer the vaccines as soon as possible after we receive them. We hope that this information, as well as the vaccine, will arrive very soon: The quicker we can start vaccinations, the more lives will be saved.”

Nevada Regional Medical Center is waiting as well. But in the meantime, they have set up a 24/7 phone system so Vernon County residents can sign up to get vaccines once they arrive.

“So, we don’t know what’s gonna happen with that,” says Holly Bush with Nevada Regional Medical Center. “We were thinking maybe that the federal government may have had some vaccines. But, apparently… it’s our understanding that maybe there’s not a lot.”

One health department in our area that’s not having to wait is the McDonald County Health Department. They started vaccinating residents in Phase 1B Tier 2 on Monday, and vaccinated 150 residents in two hours.

A representative with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services tells us vaccines are still extremely limited in the entire state, explaining in an email, “Statewide, we are still only receiving approximately 80,000 doses per week through allotments from our federal partners. Individuals in the activated tiers currently represent approximately 2.5 million people throughout the state. Although these tiers have been activated, the rate-limiting step continues to be vaccine supply.”

Even though the state has been saying that supply will be limited since the vaccine rollout started, it’s still frustrating for many healthcare providers as demand continues to grow every time the state moves to a new phase while supply is still extremely limited.

“Going from one A to one B, tier one to tier two in a short amount of time, that’s kind of put us in a position that’s a little frustrating because the vaccine is not there,” says Dr. Estep.

How to get on a waiting list.

While supply continues to be limited, many healthcare providers have created waiting lists so residents can sign up to receive vaccines once shipments arrive. That info can be found below. Mercy Hospital and McDonald County Health Department are also requiring pre-registration appointments for vaccinations.

Nevada Regional Medical Center: Call 417-448-2120 24/7 to talk to a person.

Jasper County Health Department: 417-358-3111.

McDonald County Health Department: Call 417-223-4351 for an appointment.

Mercy Hospital: Go to Mercy.net/movaccine to enter the waiting list. Then a Mercy employee will call you to set up an appointment.

Freeman Hospital and the Joplin Health Department have not created waiting lists, instead deciding to wait until they receive vaccines to start the appointment process.