Health department breaks down COVID-19 vaccine scheduling

MECOSTA, LAKE COUNTIES — As the COVID-19 vaccine supply improves, District Health Department No. 10 has expanded its eligibility groups.

Beginning Monday, anyone age 50 and older may sign up for a vaccine. To accommodate the influx, DHD No. 10 is planning to schedule more clinics. However, the way each group is scheduled for clinics may vary.

“One challenge we face is that some of the counties within our 10-county jurisdiction have exhausted their 65+ waiting lists while other counties still have fairly long lists,” said Kevin Hughes, health officer for DHD No. 10. “This prompted us to open up the eligibility so that we can fill our vaccine clinics in each county. By doing this, however, it may appear to some that we are scheduling people in the newly eligible groups before those that are on the waiting list.”

Here's how scheduling works:

• At the end of each week, DHD No. 10 is notified on the vaccine allotment for the coming week and its team gets to work planning for both first dose and second dose vaccine clinics.

• Schedulers first reach out to those on the waiting list, starting with healthcare workers and seniors 65-plus, through phone calls, emails or text messages, to schedule them in each county.

• If schedulers are unable to reach those on the waiting list, they move to the next priority list to get them scheduled. Hughes said the priority is to schedule those on the waiting list first.

For example, with this week’s first dose clinics, DHD No. 10 split up the vaccine supply and reserved more than half of the doses for the 65-plus waiting list. Staff reached out to individuals in this group directly to schedule them; then they moved on to schedule essential workers and caregivers of individuals with special needs.

With the remainder of the vaccine supply, DHD No. 10 opened up an online scheduler for individuals aged 50 and older, including anyone 65 and older who may still be waiting to be scheduled, to fill clinics. After a day and a half, almost all online slots were full in each county.

Direct online scheduling now available for 50-plus group

Going forward, DHD No. 10 also will be scheduling some of its clinics online where individuals can schedule their appointment directly at dhd10.org/schedule. This will be limited to specific groups only, such as the 50-plus priority group.

Here's how it works:

• DHD No. 10 will post online schedules for the 50-plus priority group toward the end of each week at dhd10.org/schedule. It will announce when new schedules are available via social media and Public Health Alerts.

• Individuals must first select the county where they reside, then select one of the dates that is bolded, and then select a time. There will only be one or two dates in bold to choose from in one week. If there are no bolded dates, that means the clinics are full in that county for the week.

• Residents may select a date and time from any other county in the jurisdiction to receive their vaccine; however, they must go to that same location to receive their second dose.

When scheduling vaccine clinics online, it is important to note that DHD No. 10 can only schedule one week at a time. It cannot open up dates in future weeks until it knows how much vaccine supply it will receive. If you are 50 years or older and want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, health officials suggest checking back at dhd10.org/schedule each week or sign up for the 50-64 or 65+ waiting list at dhd10.org/covid-19-vaccine.

"We understand this process can be overwhelming, complicated, and frustrating. Please know we are doing our best to coordinate this enormous effort to get everyone vaccinated that is prioritized and wants to receive it," health officials said in news release. "We ask for your continued patience as the situation continues to evolve and we adjust our plans or develop new workflows to best accommodate our residents."

For questions, email us at covid@dhd10.org. For more COVID-19 vaccine information, visit us at dhd10.org/covid-19-vaccine. To stay informed, sign up for our Public Health Alert at dhd10.org/subscribe.