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Louisville's And The State's Vaccine Distribution Plans Differ. Here's Why

Mary Meehan

The state of Kentucky is entering new phases of its vaccination plan, but Jefferson County’s progress isn’t expected to move as quickly as the rest of the state.

Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that regional vaccination sites will open at Kroger locations throughout the state on Feb. 1. Everybody in tier 1 – including tier 1c, which comprises all essential workers, people 60 or older, and those with high-risk health conditions – will be able to sign up for shots through the program.

But Jefferson County’s plan doesn’t call for tier 1c quite as soon. Instead, tier 1c is expected to begin in April or May.

Jefferson County's plan currently takes precedence over the state for local residents, since vaccines are appointment only and run by the Louisville Metro government, though city officials said you can seek vaccines in other counties. (It's still unclear which rules would govern if the state were to open a vaccine distribution center in Jefferson County.)

Louisville’s Chief Health Strategist Dr. Sarah Moyer said the biggest goal of administering the vaccine is to not waste any doses, and that the state will likely continue to give priority to 1b vaccinations, including non-medical first responders, educators and people over the age of 70.

“I think they anticipate, come February, that some counties in the state might be in a place that if they don’t have somebody 70 or over, they’ll be going on to 1c for those doses at the end of the day,” Moyer said.

Another factor is Jefferson County’s size, demographics and regional significance. Smaller counties moved quickly through tier 1a, which included front line health care workers and long-term care residents.

Unlike those smaller counties, Jefferson County is a regional hub for medical care. It also has the largest public school district in Kentucky.

“We have more health care workers,” Moyer said. “We also have more educators as a bigger county, so it’s going to take us [longer] to get through that.”

Moyer added that not all of those health care workers and educators live in Jefferson County, meaning some of the county’s allotted vaccines are going to residents of nearby counties.

Dr. Steven Hester, Chief Medical Officer for Norton Healthcare, echoed Moyer, saying the difference in timelines is a matter of supply and demand. Hester said demand for the vaccine is high locally, but there’s a national shortage of doses.

“I think you're just seeing a difference in population with a limited resource,” Hester said. “Everybody, I think, is doing the best they can to move through that as quickly as possible.”

Beshear announced at Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing that he has asked the federal government to double the amount of vaccine doses it sends to Kentucky. Last week, more than 83,000 vaccines were administered in the state. But this week, the state will only receive 56,175 doses — far less than the state has the capability to distribute.

Until vaccine availability improves, Beshear said some local distribution timelines will continue to differ from the statewide plan.

“We’re going to be flexible, especially with areas that haven’t been able to get through enough of 1b, to help and let them prioritize,” he said. “But we’ve got to continue vaccinations all over the state. We can’t pause them and just send everything to one area.”

Jefferson County started 1b vaccinations last week. More than 100,000 people 70 or older live in Louisville.

About 53,000 people in tier 1b have signed up for the county’s vaccine interest list, as of Tuesday.

“I think it's great that everybody wants it,” Hester said. “It really is a miracle that we're talking about the fact that we're vaccinating folks [after] less than a year… But patience is important here.”

Moyer said Jefferson County may open up a tier 1c interest list in February to prepare for that next phase.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.