HUNTINGTON — Scott Depot wife Peggy Kuhl spent a week calling the Putnam County Health Department trying to get her 83-year-old husband with a heart condition on the list to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Each time she called, she got the answering machine, which told her she couldn’t leave a message.
“I’m aggravated,” Kuhl, 79, said. “How am I supposed to get him on the list if I can’t call and leave a message?”
Due to an overwhelming number of phone calls since West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced those 80 and older can get the vaccine, the Putnam County Health Department was forced to switch to using the internet to sign people up for the wait list, said Cindy Farley, president of the Putnam Board of Health.
“We have 400 people on the wait list,” Farley said. “I went in Monday and answered the phone. In two hours, I put 100 people on the wait list and I missed 50 more calls because you just cannot keep up. The best way — the most expedient way — is to use email.”
Health departments across the state, particularly the smaller ones, are struggling with logistics of the vaccine distribution. Justice said Friday he knew of one health department where one person had no issues getting in touch with someone and another person couldn’t get a hold of anyone.
Kuhl has internet access, though she needed some help navigating the health department’s website to find where she can submit her information. A friend of Kuhl’s, however, does not have internet access, a situation that is more likely for this older population.
Farley said friends and family can assist in getting people on the wait list. She said they haven’t had very many issues with people not having internet access.
West Virginia National Guard Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, who served as the Guard’s adjutant general until his retirement earlier this month but is remaining involved with the state’s COVID-19 task force and its vaccine distribution plan, said during Friday’s coronavirus press briefing that people who need help getting on a wait list can also call the state’s COVID-19 hot line at 800-887-4304.
Justice said they will reach all seniors, even if they struggle to get on a wait list.
“There is still a lot of opportunity to get those we missed along the way,” Justice said.
Hoyer said they are working with other community partners such as churches and senior services organizations to assist these populations. He said it will also be easier to reach everyone once physicians, pharmacies and other health care professionals are brought on board. They will be able to more easily contact their own patients. The state calls this its push-pull method for distributing the virus. The health care professionals will pull their patients in, while the state pushes others to clinics to get the vaccine.
In the meantime, health departments and the state are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are working to get as many vaccines to as many people as they can, but there is a limited number of doses given to West Virginia from the federal government. Compared nationally, the state has done well distributing what it has received, with 70% of the state’s allocation distributed.
“I wish I knew the answer,” Farley said. “I could sit on the phone all day and still miss calls.”
Officials at the Putnam health department are getting what vaccine they do have in arms as fast as they can. They distributed 150 doses in three days and planned clinics for Friday and Saturday. The department was initially given 100 doses.
Farley said they are working to vaccinate as many people as quickly and as safely as possible. She said if they can get the wait list down, they may be able to start taking calls again.