COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
The coronavirus pandemic is not the first time Mid-Missouri health officials have had to prepare for mass vaccinations.
In 2009, the Columbia/Boone County Health Department created a vaccination plan for the H1N1 pandemic. In 2016, the county modeled similar plans to combat the mumps outbreak at the University of Missouri.
These plans, along with one being drafted for vaccinations against COVID-19, are modeled after the county health department’s Mass Prophylaxis Plan.
The vaccination plans outline “points of dispensing,” or PODs, that would be set up across Boone County. Small, closed PODs have already been rolled out for the COVID-19 pandemic; these are located at places such as businesses in order to get vaccinations to a set group.
Open PODs will roll out when vaccinations open up to more people in the general public. Missouri is currently in Phase 1A of its coronavirus vaccination plan. The general public isn't slated to receive the vaccine until Phase 3 and it's not yet known when that will occur.
MAP: Previous vaccination sites
Mary Martin, the current community health manager at the county health department, served in the same role during the swine flu pandemic.
“I went to flu clinics, I talked to people, I gave them their vaccinations, I watched people that we were watching after the vaccinations,” Martin said.
Open PODs start with an area to fill out forms and get information about the vaccine. After filling out the consent form, health staffers will review the forms. Then, a person moves to a separate area to get a vaccine and staffers will monitor for reaction.
Though each vaccination plan (H1N1, MMR and now COVID-19) is similarly modeled, there are key differences in coronavirus vaccinations that make for trickier planning. These differences are present in guidance from government officials, the necessity for extreme-cold refrigeration of the coronavirus vaccines, the emphasis on social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the deadlier nature of COVID-19 compared to H1N1.
“The most difficult part of COVID isn’t really that it has to be kept cold, frozen,” Martin said. “It isn't that you have to find people three weeks later or four weeks later, though that's something we're working on. It's that the vaccinators feel like they have a lack of control.”
That lack of control at the local level comes from different regulations and guidance at the state and federal levels. Martin said it is constantly changing.
Despite the obstacles, county health officials say they are ready for mass vaccine clinics.
"We really do have people who know what they're doing," Martin said. "And we have a really good communication network in Columbia/Boone County to make it work."
As long as Boone County continues getting shipments of the coronavirus vaccine, Martin estimates that everyone in the county will have the opportunity to get the vaccine by May.
The Boone County health department is asking people who want to get the vaccine to fill out a survey on its website. The health department will notify people who sign up about when the vaccine is available.
Boone County has reported more than 15,000 cases since the pandemic began, with about 700 active, according to the health department's online dashboard. COVID-19 has killed 63 people in Boone County, with most of those occurring since the start of November.