As Delaware prepares to receive more COVID-19 vaccine from the the federal government, the state is expanding its vaccination program to create a focus on underserved, minority communities, state officials announced Tuesday
"Our goal remains the same: we’re working to vaccinate as many Delawareans as possible, as quickly as possible," said Governor John Carney. "We also need to make sure we’re distributing the vaccine equitably and reaching especially those Delaware seniors who are less mobile and don’t have access to a computer or smartphone."
Carney said the White House told him the state can expect a 22% increase in vaccine allotments in the coming weeks. That's even more than the state was expecting when it announced a 16% additional allocation last week. Currently, the state receives approximately 15,000 doses weekly so this bump should equate to several thousand additional doses.
As of Monday, February 1, 2021, Carney said 103,791 vaccinations had been administered in Delaware, in the middle of Phase 1B--but noted they're still struggling to reach certain communities, though 31% of those vaccinations have unreported race records.
Dr. Karyl Rattay said, nationwide, 50% of race data is missing on average, so Delaware is doing better than most, but she said the state needs to do better at tracking which portions of the population have received their vaccine.
"We are doing better than the nation with 30%; still, this number's unacceptable to us," she said. "It's new data for a lot of our private providers to put into vaccine forms. Nonetheless, we want to drive that number down quickly. What we see now, from our data is that only about 5% of Black Delawareans have been vaccinated, and only about 2% of Hispanic Delawareans have been vaccinated to date. These numbers are not okay with us, and it's really, really driving us to make some significant changes in how we are reaching underserved populations."
To ensure all citizens are receiving the vaccination equally, Carney announced enrolled vaccination providers need to promptly report race and other demographic information to the Division of Public Health (DPH). Additionally, he introduced the following measures:
- The Community Health Services unit at DPH will begin partnering with the Wilmington Housing Authority (WHA) this week to vaccinate 65+ Delawareans in senior high-rises as part of a larger effort to reach seniors who don’t have access to technology or who may have mobility challenges.
- Enrolled pharmacies will receive an allocation of 4,000 doses this week, with a focus on pharmacies serving underserved communities.
- Hospital systems and specialty care providers – including ChristianaCare, Beebe Healthcare, ENT & Allergy of Delaware, and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) – also are creating events in partnership with the State of Delaware to vaccinate 65+ Delawareans, including underserved populations.
According to Carney, the Delaware Division of Public Health and Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) have prioritized, over the previous two weeks, delivering the vaccination to the "hardest-to-reach seniors" by hosting events at Salesianum, the Wilmington campus of Delaware Technical Community College, and the Chase Center.
For the coming week, Carney also announced first responders awaiting a second dose of the vaccination will receive them across a series of six scheduled events between February 3 and February 18. One event was already held on Monday, February 1, in Dover. This expansion comes after WDEL reported last week that first responders' second dose appointments were canceled. DPH has since committed to ensuring second doses are administered.
Despite those struggles initially, Rattay also said she believes the state is in a good position to roll out even stronger vaccination rollout efforts.
"We are really excited that we're in the top 10 of states. I think it really shows that we know how to quickly get vaccine into the arms of Delawareans. Additionally, we've been able to show through our larger events in the last three weekends that we were able to administer about 25,000 vaccines," she said. "We, I think, have made a lot of progress in knowing and understanding, even in cold weather, how to administer larger amounts of a vaccine."
It's simply a matter of what becomes available to state officials through federal channels, Rattay said.
"As we get more vaccine in Delaware, you'll see expanding options for all. Second doses is a topic that we've, we've been addressing quite a bit over the last few weeks, especially for those in the [Phase 1A] population," she said. "The bottom line is, really, we are building a capacity and we already have the capacity to receive and administer much, much more vaccine than we have in the state. But we are excited that we do have this network, this system, where we can get a lot of vaccine to people. As soon as the federal government gets us more vaccine, we are ready."
A Delaware partner, Curative will also vaccinate 2,000 people at indoor events this week. All appointments for the current week have been filled, but there will be more opportunities available in the following weeks.
Hospitals like ChristianaCare and Beebe will also receive 4,000 doses of the vaccination this week for administration to seniors 65 and older. The Delaware Department of Education will receive 1,200 doses to distribute to educators and staff. Those clinics are ongoing.
"We are proud to have reached the mark of 100,000 doses delivered so far in our COVID-19 vaccination efforts. That’s about a tenth of our population who has reduced their risk already even before the second dose, since the first dose has 52% to 80% effectiveness," said Rattay. "Our goal is to keep expanding the network of options for getting vaccinated, including finding ways to reach individuals and communities where large vaccination events are not a suitable option."
Officials also defended that partnership with Curative for tests, which recently underwent scrutiny by the FDA, which warned they produce a high rate of false negatives, particularly in people without symptoms. Rattay said Curative underwent "quite a bit of validation" and that the DPH was "very pleased" with the test's performance.
"The study that the federal government looked at really didn't take into account that the PCR test often remains positive past the time that somebody is usually considered contagious," she said. "What the curative test really is doing a great job of, is identifying when individuals not only are they positive, but are they contagious as well. And so, again, we're very pleased with the Curative test [based on] the validation studies that we have done."
Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) Director AJ Schall said they also did their "due diligence" when they settled on Curative.
"[Chief Physician for the Delaware Division of Public Health, Dr. Rick Pescatore] was going to people's houses and...doing control samples. If we knew they were positive one day, he went back a week later and took both something we ran in the lab and something we sent to Curative. We consistently...looked at the modalities, making sure everything is done correctly...It's not that we take lightly, or sweep under the rug. We were on this within minutes of seeing the[FDA] announcement and I still feel confident."