First 1,000 Delaware teachers will be vaccinated later this week but second doses for others still not guaranteed
Delaware will continue to give first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to thousands of more residents this week, including about 1,000 educators and school staff, despite not being able to promise them a second dose.
Division of Public Health officials said they are concentrating on first doses to reduce current COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths, but added high-risk health care workers need to get second doses as soon as possible.
"Until we get adequate supply, this is the extremely difficult balance we will need to continue to strike," spokesperson Robin Bryson said.
Gov. John Carney said last week the state needed to speed up its vaccine rollout to show it can vaccinate more people than it currently has doses for in order to receive more doses. His office referred a request for comment Tuesday to the Division of Public Health.
To date, the state has administered 77,924 of its 109,250 doses, according to its vaccine tracker. About 11,000 people were vaccinated at mass vaccination events at Division of Motor Vehicles facilities over the weekend.
Plans from the governor's office and the Department of Education call for at least 3,750 first doses to be administered this week to people 65 and older and teachers and staff.
At the same time, the state has canceled second-dose appointments for first responders and did not schedule second-dose appointments for those who were recently vaccinated at the mass DMV events. Several older adults who were vaccinated said they were told to book second-dose appointments "wherever they could," but have not found availability at pharmacies or through the state's online system.
"We want to assure everyone that second doses will be offered to everyone," DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said during a Tuesday night town hall.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines authorized for emergency use in December require a booster shot at least 21 and 28 days after the first shot to be 95% effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week the second shots can be administered up to 42 days after the first if necessary.
Some science has shown the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine alone is 52% effective and the first dose of the Moderna vaccine is 80% effective.
The state is prioritizing getting more people some protection rather than fewer people full protection. The Division of Public Health did not comment on whether or by how much the state expects its vaccine allocation to increase and whether changes in supply will allow second doses to be given on time next month.
Rattay said during the town hall that the state expects 18,000 doses to be delivered this week and the expectation is that number will increase by about 15%. Still, the state is facing a math problem when it comes to dosage.
"It’s going to take us too long to get to where we want to go," Carney said.
When asked how it will prioritize second doses for phase 1A health care workers, the Division of Public Health did not respond.
Last week, the state told health care workers they could show up to the drive-thru DMV events without an appointment. The state said more health care workers showed up than they were planning for, which contributed to the events' significant delays.
Over the past two weeks, the rate of infection and hospitalizations have trended down in Delaware. The state on Tuesday reported an average of 602.4 new cases per day over the past week and 383 current hospitalizations.
Both figures are near their lowest points since early December, but still reflect a level of community spread much greater than that experienced last spring or fall.
Sondra Jones, an 80-year-old Millsboro resident, received her first dose of the vaccine Saturday after a five-hour wait at the Georgetown DMV.
Her daughter, Tamie Hartman, said she's scared about the virus and that the uncertainty around whether she'll receive a second dose has brought her additional stress.
Jones orders groceries to her home so she doesn't have to go out in public and wipes down each item before she brings them inside.
"She's so scared about this virus that it's wreaking havoc on her life," Hartman said. "There's not a whole lot I can do that's going to bring her comfort until we know she can get that second shot."
Joe Kirk, a 69-year-old Bear resident who was vaccinated at a Middletown Walgreens, said he understands the logic behind the state's approach but has anxiety around when he will get a second shot.
He and his wife booked appointments for late March in Camden, but he's hoping to find another opportunity sooner within the CDC's six-week window.
Kirk said he told the pharmacist who administered his vaccine, "This is the best shot I've ever gotten in my life."
"I'm just hoping the hospitals or someone comes to the rescue," he said Tuesday.
Where to get vaccinated this week
The Division of Public Health and Curative, the state's main COVID-19 testing partner, are holding a vaccine event in Dover this week for 750 people 65 and older. Appointments will be offered to those who have registered for the state's waiting list through vaccinerequest.delaware.gov or the COVID-19 vaccine call center at (833) 643-1715.
The Division of Public Health is also planning a large vaccination event for at least 2,000 people 65 and older. This event will be similar to those held last weekend and will draw from people on the 65 and older waiting list.
People 65 and older looking for first doses can also book appointments online with pharmacies and Delaware's hospital systems. Participating pharmacy chains include Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, Aspira Health and the Camden Pharmacy.
The Department of Education is handling vaccinations for all private and public educators and school staff, including bus drivers, nutrition staff, office staff and district early childhood education center staff, working in Delaware.
They will be vaccinated at drive-thru clinics, on-site school events in partnership with Acme/Safeway and at pharmacies.
A vaccination request system, separate from the state's website for people 65 and older, launched Tuesday at 7 a.m. Invitations will be sent to teachers and staff for specific events after they've preregistered.
If teachers and staff do not immediately receive an invitation, they do not need to submit another request and will remain on the waiting list for future events./
The first four events will be in three schools and an empty storefront from Thursday through Saturday, Department of Education spokesperson Alison May said. They are open only to those who receive an invitation.
May said appointments for second doses will be scheduled at the events.
The size and scope of future events will depend on the state’s vaccine supply, May said. The department expects to vaccinate about 1,000 people at the first four events.
Another set of vaccination events are being organized for Delaware child care providers in early February. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.