weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Thousands of COVID vaccine appointments going unfilled

Updated March 10, 2021 - 8:12 am

Thousands of vaccine appointments have gone unfilled in the past week, leading local health officials to urge opening COVID-19 vaccinations to people 55 and older.

Clark County’s two mass vaccination sites, as well as smaller sites, are operating well below capacity, Southern Nevada Health District chief health officer Dr. Fermin Leguen said Monday.

“We really are struggling right now to fill our vaccination sites,” Leguen said.

Both mass vaccination sites are capable of administering about 4,000 doses per day. However, Leguen said recently the Cashman Center has been administering fewer than 2,500 per day and the Las Vegas Convention Center is rarely breaking 3,000.

[ Pandemic in Nevada: The year’s challenges and toll ]

The problem comes less than a month after vaccine eligibility began for residents in the 65-to-69 age group. Another group of front-line workers became eligible March 2.

The drop in appointments has not led to an uptick in wasted doses, Leguen said. However, there are hundreds of volunteers, employees and Nevada National Guard members working at vaccine sites who are not being used to their full potential.

Leguen said more people in the 65-to-69 age group may still be working, compared with older residents, making it harder to schedule an appointment during the day. The health district plans to expand public outreach and keep mass vaccination sites open later in a bid to attract more patients, he said.

But the most effective solution to increasing appointments immediately would be to allow access to a larger group of the public.

[ Who is eligible now? ]

The health district has requested that state officials lower the minimum vaccine eligibility age for the general public from 65 to 55, Leguen said. About 270,000 people between the ages of 55 and 64 live in Clark County, according to Census Bureau estimates from 2019.

Nevada’s vaccination playbook does not have a predefined eligibility group for people in the 55-to-64 age group. Instead, the next group from the general public would be Nevadans ages 16 to 64 with underlying conditions, disabilities or who are homeless. The next occupational group to become eligible would be restaurant and hospitality workers, including casino workers.

Nevada Department of Health and Human Service officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In the early days of Nevada’s vaccination campaign, appointments were frustratingly hard to come by and often booked within minutes or hours of becoming available.

That has changed as the state’s weekly vaccine allocation has increased rapidly.

In January the average weekly allocation was about 36,000 doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In February it climbed to about 48,000. So far in March, following the release of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s been closer to 76,000.

Other large-scale vaccination sites have reported lackluster turnout as of late.

UNLV’s clinic, which can administer 2,000 doses a day, has been operating at half capacity over the past several business days, said Dr. Michael Gardner, president and CEO of UNLV Medicine, the medical practice of the university’s School of Medicine.

In addition to promoting vaccinations through websites and social media, Gardner has personally called area grocery stores to encourage managers to let employees know that they became eligible for vaccination last week.

Until more groups become eligible, “we’re concerned that this will be an ongoing issue,” Gardner said.

Speaking as a physician and not a representative of UNLV, he said he hopes eligibility soon will be expanded to more occupations, more age groups and people with underlying health conditions.

“I hope that we can move in those directions in the relatively near future because that will help a lot of people,” he said.

Where to get the vaccine

Same-day first dose appointments, and second dose appointments for people who were vaccinated at a Health District or partner clinic, are available at the Cashman Center and Las Vegas Convention Center sites.

The Cashman clinic is located in Exhibit Hall B, 850 N. Las Vegas Blvd. The Convention Center clinic is located in the C-1 area of the facility’s Central Hall. Both sites are open Tuesday through Saturday.

Questions? Call 1-800-401-0946 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter. Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.