Updated March 4, 2021 - 7:03 pm
Appointments to receive COVID-19 vaccine, once as hard to find as a golden ticket, have become far more easy to come by in Clark County, Southern Nevada Health District officials said Wednesday, a factor in their decision this week to expand eligibility for shots to many more occupational groups.
On Monday, the health district announced it was opening up eligibility to Frontline Supply Chain and Logistical Support, a broad occupational category that includes everyone from agricultural workers to grocery store employees to journalists.
To fill vaccination sites, “We had to make some quick moves in the last couple of weeks to get as many people eligible as we could to get them into the seat” to get a shot, health district official Greg Cassell said at an afternoon online briefing.
It will take at least several weeks to vaccinate those in newly eligible groups, he said, opening the door to offer more groups the vaccine.
During a separate briefing Wednesday, state official Caleb Cage said that hospitality and casino workers could become eligible in the “next couple of weeks” in Southern Nevada.
“We’ve been engaged with private sector, public sector partners both on the regulatory and the operational side in the last few weeks, talking to them about making sure that they have plans in place to address this significant population,” said Cage, who directs the state’s COVID-19 response.
Cassell said that the current plan in Clark County to accommodate hospitality workers is to “increase capacity at our current operating sites” rather than to open additional sites.
The state’s system for vaccine distribution has two so-called “lanes,” one for various occupational groups and another for the general public. When vaccines first began to be administered in mid-December, it was offered only to hospital workers. It quickly also became available to first responders, more health care workers and public safety personnel.
A month later on Jan. 14, vaccinations for those 70 and older began in Clark County. On Jan. 18, eligibility was expanded to occupational groups ranging from teachers to lawyers to government workers. Appointments at this time were frustratingly hard to come by.
Residents complained of trying unsuccessfully at all times of day and night to secure a slot using the health district’s online appointment system, which has since been replaced.
A month or so later, the crunch for appointments had eased, and by Feb. 22, vaccinations were also being offered to those 65 to 69 years of age.
Health district officials said that appointments became more readily available in part because the district got through a backlog of second-dose appointments. Another factor could be a new appointment platform that made it easier to cancel appointments. Some residents also may be waiting for the newly authorized single-dose vaccine.
After those groups currently eligible, next in line in the occupational lane is Frontline Commerce and Service Industries, a category that includes food service and hospitality, encompassing tens of thousands of front-line casino workers in Southern Nevada. The next category within the general public lane is those 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.
Health district officials have stressed that the timetable for when new groups become eligible depends in part on the size of vaccine allocations, which vary from week to week.
The health district has yet to receive any shipments of the new Johnson &Johnson’s vaccine manufactured by its Janssen division. It’s expecting 17,000 doses in its first week’s allocation, said JoAnn Rupiper, the district’s director of clinical services.
After that, the shipments “may go down significantly in the next week or two, we’re just not sure,” she said.
Nevada vaccine official Candice McDaniel said that after the state’s initial allocation of the Janssen vaccine, she expects a lull in shipments for a week or two as the company ramps up manufacturing, with supplies increasing in late March or early April.