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Nevada Still Has More Than Three-Quarters Of Vaccines Unused

A close up of a man getting a shot in his right arm by a woman in blue scrubs. The image is taken on the other side of plexiglass so there is a slight reflection.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Hank Johnson with the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center was among the first to be vaccinated at the facility in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020.

It’s been nearly a month since the COVID-19 vaccine first arrived in Nevada. KUNR’s Anh Gray and Lucia Starbuck discuss how the rollout has been going so far.

Anh Gray: I remember that morning in mid-December when you covered the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine to Washoe County, can you bring me up to speed on what’s happening in Washoe and around the state with the vaccinations?

Lucia Starbuck: I remember that day so well. I never thought I would be emotional seeing a FedEx truck arrive at the health district, but here we are. So, Nevada is following a tiered approach. This prioritizes health care workers, first responders, and staff and residents in long-term care facilities. That’s who’s been getting vaccinated first. We’re also seeing, this week, healthcare workers at local hospitals are already receiving their second dose of the two-shot vaccine.

Gray: So how many people have been vaccinated exactly?

Starbuck: In Washoe County, the health district has vaccinated about 6,600 people. They’ve received nearly 9,000 doses so far, and they allocated over 12,000 doses to local hospitals and first responders like REMSA. Statewide, Nevada received about 187,000 doses, but about 21% have been administered, that’s according to data from the CDC.

Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Gray: Why are more than three-quarters of the vaccines unused at this point?

Starbuck: That’s a really tricky question. We really don’t know how many vaccines have been administered exactly, except for that CDC data. What we’re hearing is there’s this lag in reporting that data, it has to be inputted into a website, and that’s just not happening super quickly. I talked to Brian Labus about this. He’s on the governor’s medical advisory team and he’s also an epidemiologist. He broke down some of the other issues.

“For every person that we’ve vaccinated, we have to hold back one dose because they need to get a second shot, either three or four weeks after the initial one, depending on which vaccine they got. So, it may seem like we’re not using all the vaccine, but we have to hold those shots back so that people can be completely vaccinated,” Labus said.

Starbuck: But this still means that there are tens of thousands of shots that still haven't been administered so far. But state officials say they’re continuing to work on getting more shots to people.

Gray: Nevada typically ranks low for vaccinations, even in pre-pandemic times. What are some possible challenges, then, for the state with this new vaccine?

Starbuck: Nevada, on a good year, ranks pretty low. For example, during last year’s flu season, the statewide vaccination rate was at 44% — and that’s the lowest nationwide. I talked to Heidi Parker, she’s the head of Immunized Nevada.

“I think one of the drivers always has been, with our immunization rates in Nevada, also goes back to access to health care and access to providers. We know that that’s been a barrier just across the board, and that obviously hasn’t changed, and it’s probably been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Parker said.

Starbuck: Another issue Parker points to is that the state needs more funding. It needs more funding for distribution.

Gray: Initially, the state planned to stick with the tiered approach, some counties in Nevada are starting to vaccinate tier two. Can you explain which counties are doing that, and who’s in the second group?

Starbuck: We’re already seeing some counties move into tier two. We know the Quad-Counties have already begun vaccinating K-12 staff. And according to the Nevada Independent, so have Carson and Humbolt. Here in Washoe County, we will also move to K-12 teachers. They’ll be able to get the vaccine starting Saturday at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center.

I should note: tier two also includes other essential workers. We have retail, transportation and food, but right now we only know that educators in tier two are getting prioritized. Kevin Dick with the Washoe County health district said even though we haven’t vaccinated everyone in tier one, it’s really important to get moving on other groups as well.

“If we’re going to strive for perfection of getting everybody in exactly the right order, and hitting all of the marks on the percentages in a tier, that’s going to delay overall, everybody getting vaccinated,” Dick said.

Starbuck: Even though people in tier two are starting to get their vaccines, if you’re in tier one and you still haven’t been vaccinated, people in tier one still can receive a shot.

Lucia Starbuck is a core member with Report for America and initiative of the GroundTruth project.

Anh is a contributing editor for the KUNR news team and has been with the station since 2014. She is an alumna of the Boston University School of Public Health and Teachers College, Columbia University.
Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
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