LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Inundated with requests for COVID-19 vaccines for people 70 or older, all three of Louisville’s hospital systems have been forced to suspend new appointments — just three days after they started scheduling them.
Meanwhile, a waiting list for people seeking appointments has grown to about 40,000 since Friday, Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer for University of Louisville Health, said on a press call Monday.
Smith said demand for the vaccine is simply outpacing supply.
“It’s going to take a little time to get through everyone,” Smith said.
He said the three major hospital systems in the area — U of L, Baptist Health and Norton Healthcare — are trying to accommodate people on the waiting list being managed by the Louisville health department.
Smith said the three systems are divvying up names on the waiting list and will contact people as limited vaccine supplies become available.
“We’re trying to open up new appointments every week depending on what our vaccine supply is,” Smith said. “The vaccine supply has been quite variable. We may get 1,000 doses one week and three or four thousand the next week.”
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People who can’t get appointments are encouraged to keep trying.
Jim Kinsman, 85, a retired investment manager in Louisville, said he tried and failed to get appointments through all three hospitals for himself and his wife, 86 — an experience he said was highly frustrating.
“Going online and having these websites say ‘come back later’ seems so inefficient,” he said. “It’s like going online and trying to get tickets to a concert.”
Smith requested people continue to try to book appointments through U of L Health’s website and not try to call University Hospital.
“Don’t call in,” he said, adding U of L is getting “thousands of phone calls” about the vaccine.
Supplies of vaccines to states are designated by the federal government, and Smith said it’s unclear how much is available or whether supplies are running low, as some national news reports have said.
Gov. Andy Beshear announced earlier this month he wanted to accelerate the pace of vaccinations in Kentucky, focusing on people most at risk and school personnel in order to get children in grades K-12 back to in-person classes.
All three Louisville hospital systems announced Friday they would begin offering vaccines to people over 70 in addition to vaccinating their own health workers. They were quickly overwhelmed with requests.
Norton’s website says that because of high demand, “at this time schedules are currently closed.” Spokeswoman Maggie Roetker said Norton will add more appointments as more vaccine becomes available and urged people to keep checking the website.
Baptist’s website also reports it has no available appointments in Louisville. Baptist spokeswoman Julie Garrison said the hospital has been “inundated” with requests and hopes to be able to offer more appointments soon.
Smith said that U of L hopes to offer more appointments in coming weeks but that the fluctuating supply of vaccine authorized by the federal government makes it impossible to provide details on when people can expect it.
“Ideally, we would have enough vaccine to give thousands and thousands of doses per day, and that’s just not the reality of what we’re seeing as far as vaccine distribution is going,” he said.
Beshear announced earlier this month that anyone 70 or older would be eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1B of state guidelines for dispensing limited doses, along with first responders, such as police and firefighters, and school personnel.
The first doses in Phase 1A are being administered to front-line health workers and residents and staff of nursing homes.
Those 70 or older are prioritized for the vaccine because they are at greatest risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Kentucky has about 500,000 people age 70 or older, according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Smith said he isn’t faulting the government.
“By and large, they have done a pretty good job of getting it out to states, and the states have done a pretty good job of getting it to the hospitals,” Smith said.
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But President-elect Joe Biden has criticized the outgoing Trump administration’s effort to distribute vaccine as a failure and said his goal is for Americans to get 100 million COVID-19 shots in the first 100 days of his administration.
To do that, Biden pledges to add clinics, bolster the public health workforce and invoke a wartime production law to ensure adequate vaccine supplies.
So far, about 10.6 million Americans have received the first dose of the two-shot injection required for both vaccines by manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech approved for emergency use.
In Kentucky, which has a population of about 4.4 million, 213,567 doses of vaccine had been administered as of Monday, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.
Kinsman said he wishes someone at the state or local level would design a system in which people can reserve appointments as they become available, rather than being told to keep trying.
“Maybe they could do something to make it a little bit easier for us,” he said. “I’d like to know I have a place in line.”
For now, people seeking to make an appointment for the vaccine may continue to try to do so through the three hospital websites.
People in the 70-plus age range who already have an online patient chart through Norton will get a direct message that will allow them to schedule a vaccine appointment. Others can go to nortonhealthcare.com/campaigns/covid-19-vaccine-tier1b or call 502-861-4499 to schedule.
To schedule a vaccine appointment through U of L Health, go to uoflhealth.org/louisville-covid-19-vaccinations.
Baptist Health has an online registration portal at baptisthealth.com/vaccine/schedule-now.
Latest numbers:Fewer than 2,000 coronavirus cases reported Monday