Vaccinating Kentucky: Loophole leaves regional medical center on the outside looking in

Posted at 2:59 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 14:29:56-05

Update: Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center got 1,400 booster doses on Tuesday, so no one will go without the second shot. Kentucky public health commissioner, Dr. Steven Stack, said the same is true statewide: if you get the first vaccine dose, you will be given the second as well.

Original Story:

There’s a problem with COVID-19 vaccine distribution at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center and there may not be a quick fix.

“We need to be a center to at least be considered eligible to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Gary Bunch, the chief medical officer for Ephraim McDowell and its three hospitals.

Bunch said the lack of designated vaccine-center-status here wasn’t intentional, and they’re doing everything possible to rectify the situation.

“I did something I never do. I asked for help,” Bunch said of his request to have community members get involved in making those in Frankfort aware of the situation.

He said the response on social media has been very strong.

“I believe they are aware we need it. I believe our (state) senators and citizens have reached out, and Jim Gray is aware,” Bunch said. Gray, the former Lexington mayor, was recently appointed by Gov. Andy Beshear to help oversee distribution.

“We haven’t been refused the designation. We just don’t have it,” Bunch added.

But there’s something else they don’t have inside this medical center as of Monday.

“We have given 1,400 vaccines and tomorrow we’re supposed to give the second dose and we don’t have them yet,” Bunch said.

So in addition to not being able to vaccinate the thousands of residents of this six-county region outside of group 1-A, those health care workers who were inoculated three weeks ago might not receive their second dosage.

“You need that second dose, and two weeks after that you’re about 95-96 percent (immunity),” Bunch said.

Bunch has a legitimate concern about that and for the people here. For those in this area it’ll require a one-hour, or longer, trip each way, twice, to receive the vaccination elsewhere.

“We’re worried that they won’t do it,” he said of some in the area who might not be willing, or able to make the trips.

That’s not an option for Bunch. Back in October the COVID unit at Ephraim McDowell was packed. It’s frustrating for Bunch, because his facility is equipped to handle mass vaccinations, along with post-vaccine care should the need arise for such.

“We not only give it, but we can care for you afterward if there’s any side effects,’ Bunch said.

Bunch is also concerned about the federal rollout leaving everyone short in supply, and that’s something that won’t change immediately even if the vaccination-center-status is granted by the state.

“I don’t think, based on priority, we’d get the vaccine until mid-February,” he said.