Island Health Care (IHC) is set to receive a shipment of 4,040 COVID-19 vaccines through a federal program, adding a much-needed supply boost for the Island.
Speaking to The Times by phone, IHC chief executive officer Cynthia Mitchell said the health center made its first order Wednesday, and expects to receive the vaccine doses next week. The doses will then be sent to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to be administered through a partnership.
IHC registered with Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.
“It’s a weekly cycle, so we will be doing this going forward,” Mitchell said. “We will do the ordering as a health center, and immediately upon receiving them here … it’s really exciting.”
With the increase from IHC, the hospital expects to fully vaccinate the Island by the end of May.
“This is a huge win for all Island residents,” State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told The Times, “and will help put the Island on pace to get fully vaccinated. I’m deeply thankful for the work of Cynthia Mitchell and her team at Island Health Care.” Fernandes also lauded the efforts of the hospital.
During a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, chief nurse and chief operating officer Claire Seguin said the hospital’s goal is to vaccinate 100 percent of the Island population with a second dose by May 31. The hospital has been receiving roughly 1,300 doses a week, but has the capacity to administer up to 1,000 doses a day.
Last week the hospital surpassed 15,000 total vaccine shots administered — 9,039 first doses, and 6,508 second doses. As of April 15, the hospital has given 52 percent of the Dukes County population a first dose, and 38 percent a second dose.
While she was aware that reaching 100 percent of the Island’s population isn’t likely to happen, hospital president and chief executive officer Denise Schepici said there could be herd immunity if around 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.
“Certainly if we get the IHC doses, it’s attainable,” Schepici said, adding, “we believe that the census here is grossly underestimated.”
While May 31 is fast approaching, Schepici said the plans with IHC could get the Island to reach the goal before summer.
“It’s a lofty goal — Biden wants to make sure that a vaccine site is within five miles from everyone’s home. But when you’re seven miles out to sea, and there’s no Walgreens or CVS, we have a very different challenge. We’ve been trying to make that case,” Schepici said.
To help meet the demand on Island, the hospital is also working with Fernandes and State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, to petition the state for more vaccines for the Vineyard and Nantucket.
In an April 13 letter to Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, Fernandes and Cyr asked that the state consider the “special circumstances” such as extensive planning for off-Island trips, few vaccination sites, and looming population boom due to the summer season when distributing vaccine supply.
“In prior phases of the vaccine rollout, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were able to lead the state in vaccination rates thanks to a relatively consistent supply of vaccine from the commonwealth and robust coordination among island health care providers and local government. Regrettably, that progress is now stalling, as more island residents become eligible but do not have ready access to the state mass vaccination sites, nor to the federal pharmacy program. With such programmatic and geographic limitations, it’s vital that vaccine supply from the commonwealth to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard increase and be sustained,” the letter reads in part. “We respectfully ask that the Command Center increase and sustain vaccine supply to the islands to account for the limitations of the federal vaccine programs and distance to state mass vaccination sites.”
Since the hospital’s last press conference two weeks ago, the number of positive COVID cases has risen by 110 cases. “That number is troubling, not just for the hospital, but it should be a concern for all of us,” Schepici said.
The hospital is continuing COVID variant testing after three cases of the B.117 variant, known as the U.K. variant, were detected on-Island. The hospital sent three more samples to the state epidemiologist for review. While the P-1 variant from Brazil has not been detected on the Island, it has been detected in Massachusetts more than in any other state.
Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are labeled red, or high risk, and West Tisbury is labeled yellow, according to the Department of Public Health.
Schepici said this is yet another reminder that while vaccines are being administered, cases are staying high for the Island. She again stressed the need to socially distance, wear masks, and wash hands.
The hospital is also partnering with the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce to reach out to Island businesses and high-risk essential workers to get them vaccinated.
Schepici also welcomed Dr. Peter Hedburg to the hospital’s department of surgery. Dr. Hedburg completed his surgical training at Massachusetts General Hospital, and comes from Dover, N.H., where he was Wentworth-Douglas Hospital’s medical director of trauma and acute care surgery.
Meanwhile, there was an isolated COVID-19 case at Oak Bluffs town hall. Acting town administrator Wendy Brough told The Times in an email that several town hall employees who were close contacts did not test positive. Town hall remains closed, but is available by appointment only. The front foyer is open for drop-off and pickup of documents, applications, and permits. All staff are available by phone or online through the town’s website.
There have been 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far this week — eight on Sunday, one on Monday, nine on Tuesday, and 16 on Wednesday. The boards of health reported 77 confirmed cases between April 10 and 17.