“So, you vaccinated yet?”: State vaccine rollout (part two)

Last week, NEWStat reported on how the COVID vaccination rollout was going for AAHA-accredited hospital staff across the country, and the results were literally all over the map—some had been vaccinated, most hadn’t, and veterinary workers were designated as anything from Phase 1A, Phase 1B, or Phase 2, depending on what part of the country they were in.

This week, NEWStat takes a looks at how people at member practices are coping with the chaos.

Sharon Redfield, practice manager at AAHA-accredited Fredonia Animal Hospital in Fredonia, New York, told NEWStat that she’s “exhausted trying to figure this out.” Designated in Phase 1B, Redfield has yet to be vaccinated and feels a little like she’s fallen between the cracks: “I’m 58 with heart issues, but not bad enough to be termed high risk.” She added that she has employees with risk factors for COVID who worry about when they can expect vaccinations, and she’s frustrated that she can’t reassure them. “I have no answers for my staff.”

Ellen Carozza, LVT, head technician at AAHA-accredited Nova Cat Clinic in Arlington, Virginia, said information on vaccines was hard to come by there, too, so staff members bypassed official channels: “We did the research ourselves here at work and kept each other informed.” Another complication, said Carozza, is that, like many states, Virginia prioritized vaccinations for essential workers based on where they live, which means you could work in a county that classifies you as an essential worker but live one county over where you’re not. Her research paid off—Carozza got vaccinated on January 9.

In Vermont, people 75 and older were eligible for vaccination along with frontline healthcare workers starting January 25—but still no official word on veterinary workers.

Tammy McNamara, DVM, of AAHA-accredited Vermont–New Hampshire Veterinary Clinic in East Dummerston, Vermont, had mixed feelings that members of ski patrols were designated as frontline healthcare workers while veterinary workers went undesignated: “I’m grateful for every person who can be vaccinated, but wish I knew when we might be eligible.”

Veterinary workers in other states are also getting mixed reports about their designation.

In New Jersey, they’re designated 1B, although the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) acknowledges on its website that “some health officials and facilities offering vaccines have indicated that veterinarians are part of Phase 1A, [and] this appears to be in contradiction to the state’s current vaccine plan.”

This seemed to work out well for Mike Weiss, DVM, owner of AAHA-accredited All Creatures Veterinary Care Center in Sewell, New Jersey—he was vaccinated January 9, the first day of the state’s rollout, presumably at one of the facilities mentioned on the NJVMA website. “Some municipalities are breaking from the state and already vaccinating veterinarians,” he confirmed to NEWStat.

But in the end, early vaccination wasn’t early enough. “I contracted COVID the same day,” Weiss said. (The good news is, he’s doing fine.)

On Monday, the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) notified its members via email that the state had finally designated veterinary professionals as Phase 1B. But uncertainty remained as the MVMA added, “At this time, we still do not know when those individuals included in 1B will be able to secure access to vaccines or exactly how 1B will roll out.”

Andria Saxon, CVPM, CVT, owner and practice manager of AAHA-accredited Pawsitive Wellness Veterinary Care in Eugene, Oregon, said the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association notified her hospital in December that, as essential workers, they were in Phase 1A, group 4. While she was happy to be near the front of the queue, it was of limited comfort because there was no information as to when they could expect to actually get vaccinated.

“Our county has been less than helpful in letting us know when and where,” Saxon told NEWStat. When she discovered that a local dental association had managed to schedule a vaccination clinic for local dental workers two weekends ago, she asked county health officials if local veterinary workers could organize as a group and do the same.

She’s still waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, a practice manager at another Oregon hospital told Saxon that veterinary workers could get vaccinated at the state fairgrounds in Salem, an hour north of Eugene—another example of how many veterinary professionals have had each other’s backs in the absence of official information. Rather than continue to wait to hear from local officials, Saxon said she’d make the two-hour round trip.

Merja Reynolds, practice manager at AAHA-accredited 1st Pet Veterinary Centers in Chandler, Arizona, reports that, before being designated 1B, some veterinary staff in her area were able to get vaccinations as if they were 1A: “I think there was so little initial demand that they had no issues fitting everyone in,” she speculated.

Reynolds and many of her staff received their initial vaccinations two weeks ago, and Reynolds said she was one of the “lucky few” who got the second dose, too—exactly 21 days after securing the first shot. Many of her coworkers haven’t, and don’t know when they will—Reynolds says all Arizona appointments are filled through February, and now there are questions about vaccine availability.

Jack Advent, executive director of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OHVMA), told NEWStat that the state originally said veterinary workers would be 1B, “following the CDC guidelines.” But they got bumped, and the state decreed that Phase 1B would commence with people 65 and older and school personnel. Advent says the OVMA has now been told that veterinarians will be slotted into the next phase of essential workers: “I guess in Ohio that would be the equivalent of 1C,” he said. “Nobody really knows yet. And that’s going to depend on availability.”

That uncertainty spurred Becky Salinger, DVM, co-owner of AAHA-accredited Austinburg Veterinary Clinic in Austinburg, Ohio, to enroll in a vaccine study along with her business partner, Susan Paulic, DVM. “I had no hope [of] getting the vaccine anytime soon in Ohio,” Salinger told NEWStat. “And if we can help get another vaccine approved—why not?”

Salinger says it’s a double-blind study, so while she and Paulic both got shots, neither knows whether they got the vaccine or the placebo. Given the mess in Ohio, Salinger doesn’t care: “At least it’s a chance.”

Ken Osborne, DVM, medical director at AAHA-accredited Champion Wood Animal Hospital in Spring, Texas—where veterinary workers are 1B—received his first dose two weeks ago. “Not because I’m a veterinarian,” he added, “but because I’m over 65.”

Osborne said registration for the vaccine in Texas is “all over the place.” At one point, he was on three different waiting lists, but when he was finally vaccinated, it was thanks to word of mouth: “A friend told me his daughter worked someplace that had a few doses.”

Pam Nichols, DVM, owner of Animal Care Daybreak in South Jordan, Utah, and president of AAHA, got her shot early—veterinary workers are designated 1B in her state, and vaccines seem to be in good supply: She and her whole team were vaccinated four weeks ago, and are slated for their boosters this week.

But early doesn’t mean easy.

“There was virtually no information available and there was tremendous irregularity between the health departments,” she told NEWStat. She made daily calls to two different local health departments after the initial rollout, looking for answers. Her persistence seemed to pay off when she found a health department employee willing to cut through the red tape to schedule her for an appointment, “but then someone else turned me away when I went in for the vaccine.”

Nichols was not deterred. “I stopped and chatted with the manager on my way out. [She] said there were virtually no guidelines and that they were doing the best they could.” Nichols’ associate, Cassandra Eakins, DVM, was turned away as well.

Eventually, Nichols and her staff got their vaccinations under the designation of “ancillary healthcare workers.”

That rankled a bit.

“The thing that pushed me over the edge was a friend who is an aesthetician telling me that she’d been vaccinated already,” Nichols said. “Her job is important, certainly, but people don’t get emergency facials.”

Like Nichols, Tanya ten Broeke, DVM, owner and medical director at AAHA-accredited Gladstone Veterinary Clinic in Milwaukie, Oregon, received her first dose but doesn’t know when she’ll get the booster. “The info and availability are changing so rapidly right now,” She told NEWStat. “DVMs are being contacted daily, if not multiple times a day, with updates.”

That’s when they’re being updated at all.

Shortly before this story was posted, Andria Saxon of Pawsitive Wellness Veterinary Care in Eugene, Oregon, updated NEWStat on her odyssey to Salem in search of a vaccination: “The state fairgrounds clinic is closed for lack of vaccine,” she reported. “Sigh. And [so] we wait.”

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