PINETOP-LAKESIDE —- During the last week of December 2020, Pediatric MultiCare West and MultiCare West Family Practice in Lakeside received a supply of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic is owned and managed by Dr. Vera Bennett, and was chosen with a few other sites in Navajo County to give the vaccine.
Bennett is an M.D. with a Master’s degree in Public Health who added a family practice to her existing pediatric clinic in June 2020. As a pediatric clinic, Dr. Bennett and her staff give a lot of vaccines.
“We were happy to jump into giving the COVID-19 vaccine because we wanted to help the community fight the pandemic,” said Dr. Bennett. “So far, there has been a very limited supply and it was spread out across several sites,” said Bennett.
MultiCare West administered almost 200 vaccines through the first allotment. Since then, they received 60 second doses and another 100 initial doses.
The COVID-19 vaccine is for adults 18 and over but they have given the vaccines according to the phases set up by the state of Arizona. The current Phase 1B has multiple criteria, one of those being age 75 or over.
Navajo County received the Moderna brand of the vaccine, possibly because the cold storage requirements were less stringent than others, requiring the multiple-dose vial to be stored frozen at -13 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. They cannot be stored on dry ice and the carton must be protected from the light.
“We were shipped multi-dose vials each containing 10 doses of the vaccine,” said Bennett. “Once a vial is defrosted, we only have 30 days to use the doses,” said Bennett. “The kicker is that once the vial has been punctured, we only have six hours to use all the doses in that vial. Essentially, we need to have 10 people lined up with paperwork completed and ready to be vaccinated.”
The COVID-19 vaccine is a two-dose vaccine with the second injection given 28 days after the first and is supposed to provide a 50-90% immunity. Depending on the source, immunity begins approximately two to four weeks after the first dose.
In administering vaccines, the practice of allottment worked out well until someone posted a notice on Craig’s List to sign up for the vaccine at MultiCare West. This created a wave of people descending on the practice trying to get the vaccine.
“As a small private practice, we could not handle the volume and had to limit the number of people we could handle in one day,” said Bennett. “The paperwork is labor intensive and staff was sometimes overwhelmed but proper documentation is critical for any vaccine because it helps track results and it helps justify the need.”
During her interview with the Independent, Bennett emphasized that giving the vaccines was not a money-making event for them. In fact, the practice will probably lose money as a result of the additional paperwork resources and overall staff time required for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Her practices are able to charge insurance companies or the state an “administration fee” of just over $16 per dose but that doesn’t come close to covering the supplies, staff time and the resources used to vaccinate..
While most people have been very patient, some get angry and belligerent (about wanting the vaccine) said Bennet. They have no control over when they receive the vaccine or how many doses are sent. It is released by the state and counties and then to the providers.
Bennett asks the community to please be patient with the process. They have a list of people who requested the vaccine during the clinic’s first allotment and will work through that list first.
When asked about side effects seen by her staff, Bennett said that some patients have reported a sore arm or mild body aches similar to receiving the flu vaccine. They are aware that some people have reported more severe allergic reactions and they are prepared to deal with those if they occur.
“I, myself, had a more severe reaction to the vaccine that included fever, chills, nausea and headache for about 24 hours,” said Bennett. “I am told this is unusual and may be related to the fact that I had the illness two months prior to my vaccination.”
In most cases, providers don’t recommend that someone who already had the virus to get the vaccine until 90 days after infection. If a person is unsure whether they should get the vaccine, Bennett recommends speaking to your primary care physician.