ETSU vaccinators hoping more people step up for Johnson & Johnson ‘one shot deal’

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Numerous slots still open for 3-7 p.m. Tuesday clinic at Millennium Centre

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Whether it was vaccine hesitancy beginning to come to the fore, short notice or a combination of factors, ETSU Health threw a free vaccine party Saturday and there were lots of empty seats at the table.

“It was much different than two weeks ago when we ‘sold out’ of our clinic spots in about 10 hours and then we had to get a wait list that included several hundred people,” Adam Welch said Monday.

“Saturday was not at full capacity,” the East Tennessee State University College of Pharmacy associate dean added.

ETSU officials encourage people still needing to be vaccinated to check the etsuhealth.org website regularly for news of upcoming vaccination clinics.

Among those at the hub of ETSU’s role as a COVID vaccine distributor, Welch said he’s hopeful demand for clinics at the Millennium Centre will return to at least meeting, if not exceeding supply.

“I think the demand for the vaccine is not as strong as it was a month ago,” Welch said.

“I think more providers are being onboarded … so it’s becoming easier to find it. I still think there are people that need the vaccine as evidenced by the increasing rates of newly diagnosed COVID in our region and I think people still should be looking for this vaccine and getting vaccinated at their earliest convenience.”

Volunteers at ETSU Health’s COVID vaccination site at Johnson City’s Millennium Centre prepare doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If Tuesday afternoon/early evening and south Johnson City are convenient, Welch said there was still plenty of availability for a second ETSU clinic at Millennium Centre that will run from 3-7 p.m.

The vaccinations are free and have the added perk, which some people prefer, of only requiring one dose. The easiest way to make an appointment, which is required, is to visit etsuhealth.org and click on the vaccination section of the homepage:

Users must find a date of an open clinic and click into that for times. The first half dozen or so available appointment times show up, but people can use a scroll bar to move to later appointments.

Smooth, collaborative effort

Welch said ETSU Health has its Millennium Centre “POD” (point of distribution) running pretty smoothly at this point. Volunteers come from all of ETSU health’s programs, from medicine and pharmacy to nursing and public health.

Typically, the system allows for seven people to come through every five minutes — 336 in a four-hour clinic with all appointments filled.

After receiving doses early in the week, ETSU figures out how many it can offer in any clinics that week. Welch said they work to keep inventory pretty tight, using most of available supply in a given week.

“We try not to have a lot of vaccine in the refrigerator just from inventory management … which is why these press releases come out on a last-minute basis is because that’s just the nature of the operation,” Welch said.

ETSU released information about the April 10 and April 13 clinics on April 9.

Monday morning, Welch was expecting to hear about this week’s supply with another public announcement to follow once clinics were arranged. But he did say a large short term drop in Johnson & Johnson supply reported last week could impact ETSU’s operation.

“We’ve gotten supply the weeks we’ve ordered supply and that’s reassuring but moving forward I can’t predict how that’s going to be,” he said.

Welch called rising COVID case numbers “an alarming statistic.”

He said while he and his colleagues are excited about a coming effort to take vaccine out into churches, community centers and other locations to reach even more people, any jab, anywhere is a win in his mind.

“If we can get vaccines in people’s arms, that’s the feel good part of it,” Welch said. “Whether they come to us or we go to them, it’s a dose that’s in someone’s arm that could potentially save their life.”

Striving for equity — We’ll come to you

It’s generally thought some people who don’t like the idea of a two-step vaccination will be more apt to utilize the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

ETSU Health is one of the partners in a half million dollar, grant-funded effort by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to get vaccine to harder-to-reach pockets.

ETSU has scheduled clinics on weekends and evenings partly to broaden people’s opportunities, but Welch said more can be done.

Lack of transportation, jobs that aren’t flexible with time off or hesitancy about getting out of one’s neighborhood or community comfort zone could all be factors.

“I think a lot of people would like to get the vaccine but it may not be convenient for them, they may need to take a day off of work or they can’t afford to do that or they just may not have the time when the clinics are available.”

Among those who may be hesitant, Welch thinks the outreach effort might help.

ETSU’s been talking with community leaders throughout the region that can help make those efforts successful.

“We’re looking at churches, community centers, just other places in general around our town, around our region,” Welch said.

“We can do this this week. I mean, we’re ready. We have everything lined up we just need essentially to have space to do it.”

Welch said ETSU is preparing for a summer that will see some students who have been helping with the clinics leave the area temporarily.

“My hope is that ETSU will continue to provide vaccine as demand requires throughout the summer and even beyond that.

“We want to vaccinate as many people as possible so … we’re trying to be more inclusive and provide the vaccine to as many people in our region as possible.”

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