St. Joseph County sets aside $10K for potential COVID vaccination clinics

The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners approved a budget amendment Tuesday to set aside $10,000 to fund additional COVID-19 vaccination clinics, should the need arise in the coming weeks and months. The allocation of funds would support Covered Bridge Healthcare in COVID-19 vaccine distribution for first and second round dosing.

Board Chair Dennis Allen said if the county were to receive an influx of vaccines and the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency was unable to “conduct a clinic because it had something scheduled in Branch or Hillsdale (County),” Covered Bridge has assured the county it could setup a clinic within 48 hours. The cost of medical personnel to oversee the clinic and administer the vaccine would cost approximately $600 a day, according to Allen.

Commissioner Kathy Pangle asked Allen to clarify whether the partnership was “a backup plan,” to which Allen said, “This would be a backup plan with the health department leading, whether they use the National Guard or other personnel.”

“But if (the health department) is not available because of other commitments, this would be the way to get clinics going as quick as possible,” Allen said. “I don’t want to have to be sitting and waiting on funding when we’ve got vaccines available to be put into people’s arms.”

Covered Bridge Healthcare Directer Rick Schaffer, who formerly served on the county commission, said his organization could establish clinic locations around the county to ensure maximum accessibility, and could administer approximately 200-300 vaccines per day once more vaccinations became available. Schaffer said Covered Bridge wouldn’t need the assistance of the National Guard to administer mass vaccinations, and could get by with five Covered Bridge employees and 10 experienced volunteers. He said the St. Joseph County United Way has agreed to help coordinate lunches for employees and volunteers, and secure inoculation site locations.

“We see this program as a supplement to the health department program,” Schaffer said.

Health Officer Rebecca Burns said vaccine doses are “very, very limited right now,” with St. Joseph County only receiving 300 new doses this week.

“Hopefully we will get more than 300 doses next week but in conversations I’m having with the state immunization folks, it is likely doses will be small for a while yet,” Burns said.

“There will continue to be a lot of people looking for a vaccine that they can’t get, and we need to continue that message to everybody that the vaccine is definitely our way out of this pandemic, but we need to continue all of those strategies that work, like wearing a mask, staying socially distant, staying in your bubble with those folks you do interact with outside of your home. And by doing that, along with putting every dose we get for the county into arms, we’ll start to work our way out of this pandemic.”

Allen reiterated the proposed partnership with Covered Bridge Healthcare is simply a case of the county “preparing, planning, thinking ahead,” and the $10,000 set aside for the aforementioned clinics may never be spent.

“But I’d rather be prepared and ready to go than sitting and waiting on somebody else when we could have been ahead of the game.”

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.