If you have been watching television or listening to the radio lately, you have heard story after story about problems with COVID-19 vaccination programs across the nation.

In southcentral Kentucky, the COVID-19 vaccination program at Med Center Health is fully operational and vaccinating 600 to 700 individuals daily when vaccine is available. The program requires a great deal of time and effort by medical professionals and support staff.

Vaccine is distributed by the federal government to individual states. Each state then distributes its allotment to facilities around the state for vaccination of individuals. Vaccinations are currently prioritized to senior citizens above age 70, health care workers and educators.

The Pfizer vaccine, which is being administered by Med Center Health, must be stored at very cold temperatures.

In Kentucky, only Louisville, Lexington and Bowling Green have refrigerators capable of storing the vaccine at these ultra-cold temperatures. Once the vaccine has been thawed, it must be injected into a person within six hours to be maximally effective.

Med Center Health uses a large lobby and auditorium to house the vaccine clinic. The lobby contains five computer registration stations to gather basic information, including name, address, age and vaccination class to verify eligibility for the vaccination program. After information is obtained, each person is directed to one of six injection stations. The injection is given by a trained volunteer. A second volunteer records information into the database that includes the type and the lot number of the vaccine received. Each person is given a card with their personal vaccine information on it. This documentation shows proof of vaccination for purposes of travel or employment.

Behind the scenes, pharmacists draw vaccine from multiple dose vials to individual syringes for each injection.

Another group of administrators is constantly working to fill in slots where people have canceled or missed appointments. They also go to the waiting list to schedule appointments as soon as they receive information as to when they will receive their next allotment of the vaccine from the state.

Lastly, the vaccinated person is observed by a nurse or a physician for a period of 10 minutes to ensure that any immediate reaction to the vaccine is treated appropriately.

The present system requires that individuals in the appropriate target groups call to make an appointment. This allows the folks who are motivated to receive their vaccine as soon as possible. It is the most efficient way to vaccinate as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. Health care professionals know that people who have mixed feelings about vaccines or who have signed up to please a spouse or a family member will often fail to keep their appointment.

This missed appointment deprives another person from receiving their injection in the most timely manner.

The press and media have reported that certain groups have been slow to receive their “fair share” of available vaccine allotments. Members of these groups are often hesitant to participate in vaccination programs due to generalized distrust of the medical establishment, immigration issues or fear of vaccination side effects. While outreach to these groups is important, the community must recognize that persuading these individuals and groups that vaccination is in their best interest will require major commitments of time and resources. It should also be noted that every person who gets vaccinated slightly lowers the chance that an unvaccinated person will contract COVID-19 while out in the community. This is a benefit to every member of the southcentral Kentucky family.

By my calculations, Med Center Health’s clinic requires at least 60 staff and volunteers each working several hours of a 10-hour day to deliver 600 vaccinations per day. This averages out to 30 minutes of staff person time to administer one injection.

For the United States as a whole, this would work out to 330 million man hours to vaccinate all U.S. residents under optimal conditions. This works out to 165,000 individuals working full time for a year to deliver COVID-19 protection for all.

Many people are frustrated over the changing information we receive daily over the “best practices” that we should follow to decrease the likelihood of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus. I would like to paraphrase Edward Scheinerman, who discussed the difference between mathematics and science in his book “The Mathematics Lovers Companion.” In mathematics, truth results in absolute certainty. The sum of two odd numbers is always an even number. In science, truth is not absolute but an ever improving sequence of approximations.

There are currently thousands of scientists around the world working on the COVID-19 problem. Each individual is doing his or her best to push our understanding a bit closer to the “absolute truth.” Some will not be moving in the right direction, but some will.

Only by trial and error and working through these uncertainties one by one will our closest approximation to “the truth” be worked out.

As a retired physician, I am proud to see so many individuals and organizations working with dedication and efficiency to improve the health of the people of southcentral Kentucky. The task is not easy, and there are many competing priorities for who should be first to receive the available vaccine. In my opinion, Med Center Health is doing a fantastic job one shot at a time.

– Dennis M O’Keefe is a retired physician and vaccine clinic volunteer.