The COVID-19 vaccination clinics hosted by Sky Lakes Medical Center have largely escaped the chaos earlier predicted by some health officials, but they have not been without frustration for both patients and those who want to help them get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Appointments at the Sky Lakes vaccination clinics are by appointment only, and the appointments are essentially determined by the number of doses allocated to the medical center.

The process works like this: Vaccine ships weekly from the Oregon Health Authority to county health departments. In Klamath County, Public Health determines an equitable allocation among the various entities doing COVID-19 vaccinations. Sky Lakes typically learns the number of doses available for a week on Monday afternoon.

There are times when the allocation amounts to hundreds of doses – perhaps even several hundred – or there may be none, as was the case when shipments were delayed last week because of severe winter weather.

The Sky Lakes COVID-19 Vaccination Team meets early the next morning to detail the next steps. Directors from key departments with expertise in organization and logistics and a Sky Lakes Senior Manager comprise the team. They decide the most efficient ways to administer the limited number of doses, select an appropriate site for the shot clinics for that week, and build the schedule for those clinics.

By 8 a.m. Wednesdays, eligible people can make appointments through the Sky Lakes Vaccination Call Center, 1-833-606-4370. Once individuals have an appointment, they are assured of getting their first dose with another appointment for their second dose.

While eligible individuals are making their appointments, the team members fan out to ensure the logistics for successful vaccination clinics are in place. Sky Lakes employees and volunteers are scheduled for wayfinding, registration, shot preparation and administration, and patient monitoring while communications regarding the clinics are broadcast.

So why is there frustration among staff? It is the Sky Lakes corporate culture to want to have things planned, sequenced, and organized well in advance so potential weaknesses can be anticipated and corrected. Not knowing until almost the last minute exactly how many COVID-19 vaccine doses will be available is less than ideal, but everyone in the organization is doing a very good job with a difficult situation.

Participating Sky Lakes staff also know the vaccine will save lives, so they want shots in arms as quickly as possible, but always keeping safety and the ever-changing state guidelines in mind as well.

Factor in that there are two vaccines available – for now — and the planning is further complicated, adding to the frustration. Both vaccines require two doses, and they cannot be mixed. That means part of the weekly allocations need to be set aside to complete the cycle.

Here are some of the commonly asked questions regarding vaccination clinics:

I know I become eligible in a week or so. Why can’t I schedule my vaccination now?

Vaccinations depend entirely on the limited number of doses we receive. You can call 1-833-606-4370 Wednesday mornings to learn appointment availability for the week.

What if my second dose is scheduled past four weeks?

Experts agree that you can receive your second dose anytime up to six weeks after your first dose without sacrificing efficacy.

Why do I need to call for an appointment?

Having an appointment means you won’t be waiting in line in hopes there will be a dose when it’s your turn. When you have an appointment, you are assured of having a dose with no or a very short wait. We chose using a toll-free number to a central scheduling location because it’s relatively easy for most patients to navigate. Communities elsewhere have used other options with varying degrees of success and levels of chaos.

Why am I put on hold for such a long time when I call for an appointment?

While we have several operators on duty to take calls for appointments, the volume of calls sometimes overruns their ability to answer immediately and causes delays as they take care of patients’ needs.

I am not in any of the currently eligible categories, when can I expect to get my vaccination?

There are more than 15,000 people in Klamath County over the age of 65. Klamath County Public Health typically gets fewer than 1,000 doses a week to serve them. Even if the number of doses increases to 1,300 per week as now planned by the state, it will take months to get through just that population before we can open vaccinations up to other populations. Please be patient and continue to wear a mask in public, observe physical distancing, and avoid large gatherings.

How do I know the vaccines are safe?

Before receiving federal government authorization, the vaccines currently used were tested on tens of thousands of people and determined to be safe and effective. Further, of millions of vaccinations given nationwide, there have been only a few isolated incidents of adverse reaction.

We need to get 85 percent of everyone vaccinated so we can have widespread community immunity and get things back to normal, so Sky Lakes continues to advocate for people to receive no-cost COVID-19 vaccinations.

Image is of Mychal Amos, a member of the Sky Lakes COVID-19 Vaccination Team briefing staff at a vaccination clinic.