With the pace of vaccinations at COVID-19 vaccine clinics slowing, the effort to get shots in arms in the Omaha area has begun shifting to doctors’ offices.
CHI Health began testing the process in April, working with the Douglas County Health Department. It now is offering the shots to patients who visit its offices in Douglas and Sarpy Counties for appointments.
More area clinics will begin offering the vaccines in the coming weeks as they work through the details of storing and administering the shots. The COVID vaccines now in use require cold storage and more specialized handling than other vaccines such as flu shots and tetanus boosters that clinic staff typically give.
Meanwhile, the Douglas County Health Department and local health systems are planning to phase out the large vaccination clinics they have been operating for the past several months. The last day for the CHI clinic in Sorensen Park Plaza will be Thursday, and the Methodist clinic in Miracle Hills Plaza will shutter at the end of operating hours June 26. The Nebraska Medicine clinic at 5710 S. 144th St. will stop offering first doses June 26 and inject its last second doses July 18.
Federal health officials also are encouraging the shift into doctors’ offices around the country. The White House COVID-19 Response Team and the U.S. surgeon general held a virtual event Friday to discuss the importance of health systems and primary care providers in further expanding vaccination programs and in educating their patients about the vaccines. Among those invited were health system leaders, primary care providers and state and local health officials.
The event comes as the pace of vaccination has slowed significantly, both nationally and in Nebraska. The Biden administration has set a goal of getting at least one shot into 70% of adult Americans by July 4. According to the New York Times, 63% of Nebraskans ages 18 and older have gotten at least one dose of COVID vaccine. The Douglas County Health Department says 64.9% of adults 18 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine.
Dr. Michael Schooff, director of primary care for CHI Health, said those who were eager to get vaccinated lined up earlier this spring and flooded mass vaccination clinics.
But others, he said, have been hesitant or haven’t yet found the time to get their shots. For them, being able to visit with a trusted health care provider, typically one they have known for years, can make a difference. Not only can such patients ask their doctors questions about the science behind the vaccines, they also can discuss how the vaccine will impact them personally, based on their medical conditions and any medications they take.
“To have that one-on-one conversation really has helped with many of those who were hesitant,” Schooff said.
Julie Gernetzke, CHI Health’s division vice president of operations and development, said some patients have been waiting to get the shots from their own physicians.
So far, she said, CHI’s clinics have administered nearly 1,100 shots. Many of those shots have been given in traditionally underserved areas — North Omaha, South Omaha and parts of northwest Omaha.
In addition to the vaccine itself, she said, clinics have other services, including translators, to help bridge language and literacy barriers and help educate patients about the vaccines. The health system’s data also indicates that patients are coming back for second shots.
Statewide, some clinics already have been offering the vaccine, particularly federally qualified health centers such as OneWorld Community Health Centers and Charles Drew Health Center. How many isn’t clear.
Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist with the Douglas County Health Department, said two large independent pediatric practices, Village Pointe/Dundee Pediatrics and Omaha Children’s Clinic, already are providing shots to patients 12 and older.
So are two Methodist Health System locations in Council Bluffs — the Methodist Physicians Clinic Risen Son clinic and the Methodist Jennie Edmundson Medical Plaza. Methodist officials said they hope to begin offering shots at Methodist Physicians Clinic locations in Omaha by July 1. Nebraska Medicine also is making plans to offer the vaccines in its clinics, likely near the end of the month.
Beginning next week, all 14 Children’s Physicians locations will offer shots on certain days, said Dr. Melissa St. Germain, the group’s vice president and medical director. Children’s also will continue to offer some drive-thru clinics this month, with one Saturday at its Mission Village location at 169th and Q Streets and another Sunday at its office at the Creighton University Medical Center-University Campus at 24th and Cuming Streets.
O’Keefe said the Health Department will continue to offer mobile, pop-up clinics as it did Wednesday at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Another clinic is scheduled for the zoo from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The zoo event drew not just zoogoers, O’Keefe said, but neighborhood residents and other for whom the location was convenient. Other future sites likely will include schools, festivals and churches.
The numbers getting shots aren’t as large as at the large community clinics, O’Keefe said. But health officials hope more people will continue to turn out.
“Little by little, hopefully we’ll get there,” she said.
Gernetzke said CHI Health also is laying plans to continue providing the vaccine, just as it does with flu vaccine, and to provide COVID booster shots later on if health officials determine they’re necessary.
“A lot of work is going on behind the scenes,” she said, “to prepare for what could come our way.”