St. Bernards expands vaccine access as Delta variant spreads across NEA

by George Jared ([email protected]) 433 views 

The COVID-19 virus and its latest variant, Delta, is spreading rampantly throughout Northeast Arkansas with near record numbers of patients filling local hospitals. In an effort to make vaccines available seven days a week, St. Bernards Healthcare now has six clinics offering the vaccine while also forming partnerships with area churches, schools and communities for expanded access.

The healthcare system had previously provided the COVID-19 vaccine at a central location certain days of the week, but St. Bernards leaders concluded access had increasingly become an issue for some working individuals and others facing transportation difficulties.

St. Bernards Vice President of Ancillary Services LeAnn Morrow said St. Bernards aims to remove any barrier preventing someone from receiving the vaccine.

“We’ve fielded numerous requests for vaccine availability throughout the week, including the weekend,” Morrow said. “We simply believed it was the right action to take.”

St. Bernards clinics that now provide the vaccine include two Urgent Care facilities open seven days a week, three primary care clinics open five days a week and a dedicated vaccine clinic operating every Friday. While the initial clinic expansion is limited to Jonesboro, St. Bernards said it plans to expand offering the vaccine elsewhere in coming weeks. Furthermore, it will begin vaccination partnerships with Jonesboro and Nettleton Public Schools as well as Blessed Sacrament Church and Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro throughout the month of August.

To date, St. Bernards has administered well more than 35,000 vaccine doses. Still, CDC data shows that 64% of Craighead County’s population at least 12 years of age has not been fully vaccinated, and 54% remains completely unvaccinated – despite sustained levels of high community transmission. St. Bernards Vice President of Medical Affairs Kasey Holder, M.D., said low vaccination rates certainly played a role in the expansion.

“We’ve all heard by now that ‘Research shows that the COVID-19 vaccine is the safest and most-effective way of keeping someone out of the hospital,’” Holder said. “I can tell you from first-hand experience that our hospital numbers have proven it true, time and again. The vast majority of our patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated. If there’s an immediate action you can take that will help protect yourself and your loved ones against this virus, it’s the vaccine.”

Dr. Holder added a request that individuals who receive an mRNA vaccine – those produced by Pfizer and Moderna – receive their second dose.

“The second dose of these particular vaccines really boosts the COVID antibodies present, and that’s where the biggest protection takes place with this Delta variant spreading rapidly,” she said. “We strongly encourage individuals who have only had their first dose to return for a second.”

As noted, St. Bernards currently offers the Pfizer vaccine, and vaccinations between it and the Moderna vaccine should not be mixed according to the FDA.

As the virus infects more people, testing will be critical, St. Bernards Medical Center Administrator Michael Givens said. Local primary care clinics, urgent cares, pharmacies, health departments and telemedicine – including St. Bernards Go – remain the best care and testing options for mildly symptomatic cases and virus exposures, he added.

“Hospital census numbers have continually risen across our state, and emergency departments have accommodated abnormally high volumes recently, including persons needing a simple COVID test,” Givens said. “We ask that emergency departments can stay focused helping community members needing emergent care. As always though, our emergency departments stand ready to help regardless of the situation, and someone should not hesitate to seek our care. We sincerely appreciate your consideration and cooperation as we fight this virus together.”