FARGO — Deb McShane has an autoimmune disease that requires her to take medication that suppresses her immune response, placing her at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
She's registered to get the vaccine at her clinic, pharmacy and local public health agency.
But, after weeks of waiting, she still hasn’t been told when she can expect a shot.
“It’ll come sooner or later,” she said. “It just seems we have no system. You have to be your own best advocate.”
McShane, who lives in Fargo, wishes there was one central registry, but acknowledges that’s probably not workable.
“It’s just frustrating,” she said of the wait. “I don’t think I should have to go out and search for it. I don’t want to spend my days chasing this stuff.”
She works in retail and limits her errands and wears a mask to reduce her risk, taking what she calls “calculated risks” to get by. “They don’t tell you where you are in the vaccination line,” she said.
The demand for the vaccine so far is vastly outweighing the supply — especially among the older age groups who are now being targeted to receive the vaccine.
Those currently eligible for the vaccine are 75 and older, or at least age 65 with two health conditions that make them more vulnerable.
Dr. Doug Griffin, vice president and chief medical officer of Sanford Health in Fargo, said the health system expects to receive about 2,000 doses this week, including doses that were delayed because stormy weather hindered some shipments.
The weekly allocation has grown by several hundred doses, which is encouraging, but still falls far short of the demand, Griffin said. Sanford and other local providers have said they administer vaccines as soon as they become available.
“We try to reassure them the main issue is vaccine supply,” he said.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, the only two manufacturers with vaccines authorized for use in the U.S., announced this week that they have solved manufacturing problems that will allow them to significantly increase production in the weeks and months ahead.
Predicting when vaccines will become more plentiful is guesswork, Griffin said, but health providers are hoping to learn by early March that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is approved, which would boost supplies.
North Dakota ranks first among states in the percentage of vaccine doses that have been used, 98.8%, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. In North Dakota, 16.9% of the population has received at least one dose, compared to 17.9% in South Dakota and 14% in Minnesota.
The current tier of those targeted for vaccination, ages 75 and over or those who are 65 and over with two health conditions that place them at higher risk, is apt to take several more weeks, given current supplies, Griffin said.
“We just need more vaccines,” he said, adding that he expects significant supply improvements in April or May. “We want to open to everybody.”
The strong demand is encouraging, although might not be as high among younger age groups, Griffin said. “We’ve had, I think, a good uptake.”
Twyla Connor of Moorhead is 67 and has multiple sclerosis and had open heart surgery, but still is waiting. She’s registered at a private health system, a local pharmacy and with public health. Her husband got vaccinated at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“We’ll just wait,” she said. “I've been sitting around a year anyway.”
Kathryn and Brian Scott of Fargo are both eligible, and both waiting for their shots. They’ve repeatedly asked their health system when they can be vaccinated, and the answer has been “supplies are limited” and they will be notified when it’s their turn.
“After a month of this kind of communication, I no longer believe that it will happen anytime soon,” Kathryn said.
For information on getting the vaccine in North Dakota and Minnesota, visit www.inforum.com/vaccinetracker.