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Sisolak asks feds why Nevada is near bottom in vaccine distribution

Updated January 26, 2021 - 8:00 pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to probe why Nevada is near the bottom of the list for the amount of COVID-19 vaccine distributed to states per capita.

“We need our fair share of vaccine doses to stand up and sustain successful vaccination efforts to reach Nevadans in an equitable fashion,” Sisolak wrote in a letter dated Sunday to acting Health and Human Services Secretary Norris Cochran.

The governor asked the department to not only look into the amount distributed to the state but to “find ways to increase our allocation both immediately and for the long term,” a call echoed Monday by local and federal officials.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal data shows that Nevada has received the second-lowest number of vaccine doses per capita among the states and also is at the bottom in terms of shots administered, for which state officials offered further explanation during a briefing Monday.

Nevada is not “hoarding vaccine in a warehouse,” said state vaccine official Candice McDaniel in addressing a rumor, stressing that the massive vaccination effort is a complex logistical endeavor.

Of nearly 287,000 doses received by the state, about 212,000 have been delivered to counties and other vaccine providers, while more than 74,850 doses have been given to pharmacies to administer at their branches for those 70 and older and at long-term care facilities, she said.

Second doses

McDaniel, a bureau chief for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, insisted that Nevada had ordered first doses “up to the federally allocated cap.”

“But we’re ordering second doses in quantities requested from vaccinators” as they are needed, she said. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine can be administered after 21 days, and the Moderna vaccine after 28 days.

“These doses are being ordered as we approach the time to use them,” she said. “We have not seen a disruption in this process that would inhibit Nevadans from receiving their second doses.”

Lags in reporting vaccinations administered make it appear that fewer shots have been given than actually is the case. The state’s system for tracking immunizations has recorded 160,000 doses. “But we know from our constant communication with counties and local partners that around 20,000 doses have been administered” but not yet recorded.

The state will be receiving assistance with data entry from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Nevada National Guard. It also is looking at ways to make its data-entry system more efficient.

The state is still in the process of providing vaccinations to residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, a group in the first tier to receive the vaccine along with frontline health care workers. It is slower to go to individual facilities to give shots than to hold a mass vaccination event, McDaniel noted, suggesting the more time-consuming approach has affected Nevada’s inoculation numbers.

The program, implemented with CVS and Walgreens, has delivered vaccine to 530 of 670 participating facilities and is expected to be completed within a few weeks, she said.

Federal relief

Caleb Cage, who directs the state’s COVID-19 response, said that with a limited budget for vaccine distribution, data entry hasn’t been the state’s top priority. But he saw some federal relief in sight.

FEMA said the Biden administration intends to reimburse states, tribes and local governments for the cost of vaccination and plans to establish new FEMA vaccination sites in every state.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said she is “working with the governor’s office to find ways to increase access to vaccines at the federal level.” Rosen is a member of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

In his letter to the acting secretary of health and human services, Sisolak said that the state could “drastically scale up the number of vaccines that could be administered per day.”

Cage said that the state, which receives 36,000 vaccine doses per week, could administer 18,000 per day.

Clark County Fire Chief John Steinbeck said the county uses its entire supply of vaccine each week. He estimated that the county, which received 23,000 doses of vaccine this week, could easily administer 100,000 doses each week.

“It’s not that we don’t have the will to go ahead and work around the clock to go ahead and push those out to the entire community,” said Steinbeck, who helps to oversee the largest vaccination site in the state at Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas.

The call by officials for more vaccine likely will be welcomed by residents frustrated by the difficulty — some would say the impossibility — in finding an available vaccination appointment.

At Sun City Anthem in Henderson, a three-week vaccination clinic was cut back to one week when vaccine ran out. Still, those interviewed at the new site on Monday said the process went smoothly.

“It went very smooth and was quick,” said 74-year-old Richard Guaraldi of Henderson. “We had a 10:25 appointment, and it’s 11:10 and I’m looking to find where my wife parked the car.”

Those whose appointments were canceled are expected to be rescheduled as soon as the clinic is resupplied.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Debra J. Saunders, Gary Martin, Blake Apgar and Marvin Clemons contributed to this report.

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