CHARLESTON — Since late last month, the Boone County Health Department has been barred by the state from receiving and distributing COVID-19 vaccines, according to Allison Adler, spokeswoman with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The exclusion came after more than 40 Boone County residents were mistakenly given an antibody treatment instead of COVID-19 vaccines at the health department on Dec. 30.
The agency will be allowed to distribute vaccines again once DHHR completes a “clinical monitoring visit,” Adler said, which they “expect” to occur this week.
It’s unclear whether health department officials, who declined to comment on the record for this article, are aware of the visit, which Adler said will include “a review of agency policies and procedures.”
DHHR officials will also interview health department personnel on top of reviewing policies, resulting in a “site visit report.”
“The intent of this process is to provide agency leadership and clinical personnel with recommendations for improving patient care practices and outcomes and the utilizations of agency resources,” Adler said.
The state is pushing aggressive vaccinations for older residents — specifically those over 80. Statewide, most vaccinations for health care workers, first responders and long-term care facility residents and staffers have been completed.
Teachers, school staffers and those necessary for the continuance of government, as well as other people in the general population over the age of 50 will be some of the next people eligible to receive the vaccine, according to multiple statements from Gov. Jim Justice.
More than 20% of Boone County residents are 65 years of age or older, according to the U.S. Census, meaning nearly a quarter of the county’s people are at high-risk for COVID-19. With the health department unable to do so, only one agency — Madison Medical, a Federally Qualified Health Center — is currently injecting vaccines into the arms of Boone County residents.
It’s unclear whether the amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses sent to Boone County has remained constant, despite the health department’s exclusion from the process. Representatives at Madison Medical, a member of the Southern West Virginia Health System, could not be reached for comment Monday.
The antibody incident occurred on Dec. 30, when Boone County Health Department officials drove to Charleston and picked up what they thought was a vaccine shipment from members of the West Virginia National Guard.
“We signed the chain of custody, all the numbers matched and we brought it back, and if you looked at the bottle, they don’t give you a lot of information on it,” Julie Miller, administrator at the Boone County Health Department, told the Coal Valley News after the incident. “We gave what we thought was the vaccine and it ended up being the antibody … we administered 42 before we got a call from the National Guard. We had people lined up for it before (doses) arrived because (Justice) said it would be available.”
The box with the shipment in it read “Moderna COVID-19 vaccine,” Miller told the Coal Valley News.
“The National Guard made an emergency phone call to halt the vaccination because, quote, and this comes from the National Guard: ‘You did not receive the vaccine. You received antibodies that were meant for CAMC Memorial,’” Dr. Philip Galapon, Boone County health officer, told WCHS-TV the next day.
Neither Galapon nor the Boone County Commission could be reached for comment by press time Monday.
Those who mistakenly received the antibody were offered actual vaccines the next day.
In a statement, National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said that as soon as the Guard was notified of the mix-up, they “acted right away to correct it.”
Hoyer said the agency also took the opportunity to “immediately” review and strengthen distribution protocols to “prevent this from happening again.”
It’s unclear how the antibodies were placed in an incorrectly labeled package, what policies specifically are under review at the Boone County Health Department regarding the mix-up or what changes, if any, the National Guard has made to prevent this from occurring again.
Four days after the Boone County incident Jackson County health officials reported via Facebook that when staffers arrived at the Charleston hub to pick up their vaccine shipments, there were none available. Instead, they were told the Charleston hub had only received shipments of antibodies.
Though Boone County so far is the only county to administer antibodies instead of vaccines, Sandy Glasscock, administrator at the Grant County Health Department said it’s something they all look out for now.
“Fortunately no, it hasn’t happened here, but yes we’ve had to stay on top of it,” Glasscock said.