Why COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Has Been Slow In Wyoming

Jan 8, 2021

Credit Melodie Edwards

Right when the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved, the federal government started shipping boxes to states, and the Moderna vaccine was only a week behind. Since then Wyoming has received over 25,000 doses, but only 35 percent of those have been administered as of January 7.

"You can't just open the box and hand out, and say 'here, here's your vaccine.'" said the Wyoming Department of Health's (WDH) Kim Deti. "There are a lot of unique challenges."

Deti said there are lots of logistics that are slowing the progress of getting that shot in the arm. Vaccines arrived during the holidays when many health care providers were off or with their families. And both vaccines require different storage methods. And then, of course, there's the scheduling of appointments.

"The little bottle that has a certain number of doses in it, you want to be sure you're not just opening it for one person," she said. "You have to do some planning and scheduling so that nothing is wasted. We don't want to waste that important resource."

And all those logistics have been left up to the state and local health departments to figure out without federal guidance. Deti said that's the right move because counties understand their communities better. But Natrona County Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell disagreed.

"If we had had a national plan, we would have a very easy footprint to follow. But we don't," said Dowell. "And this has been a nightmare."

Dowell, who is also an infectious disease specialist, said the Natrona County Health Department is overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to schedule and get the vaccine out to people.

"[It's] eating up tremendous, tremendous employee time and energy and burning people out because we have to figure out what to do instead of having a national program," he said.

But even with this challenge, Dowell is optimistic that the vaccine is here so society can hopefully return back to some kind of new normal. However, a new problem has arisen.

"What's disturbing is that some physicians in their offices are not willing to take the vaccine and telling their patients not to get it," said Dowell.

Roughly 50 percent of the priority 1A groups in Natrona County are declining the vaccine. The majority of this group are medical professionals. Dowell said this isn't helping people feel confident about taking the vaccine.

"To me that is the antithesis of why you became a healthcare provider. And what you're supposed to do, to educate your patients and look out for their well being, and do the best thing for them," he said.

Things are even worse in Campbell County where as of this week only 27 percent of the priority 1A group have taken the vaccine there. Jane Glaser, the executive director of the Campbell County Public Health Department, said she's not sure why there has been such opposition.

"We are working with medical providers to get information out regarding the vaccine," she said. "The development, making sure that they have all the most current information to make everybody as comfortable as possible, to encourage them to take the vaccine."

Both Glaser and Dowell are not losing hope. As they continue down the priority groups, they believe more people will take it.

"As other frontline workers and other populations are able to get the vaccine, that will be a demonstration to other people in the community that, 'Oh, it works'," said Glaser. "They're not getting sick. Nothing happened to them, they didn't grow a third eye."

So both communities are chugging along reaching out to people who are first in line. Many counties are planning to move to the next priority group by next week. And preparing to distribute the vaccine through the county so others can access it.

"We want to go as much as possible to those facilities and agencies to help make it easier and less stressful on the employees," said Glaser.

The hope is that if people take the vaccine society will soon return back to some kind of normal.