The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released its new COVID-19 immunization website on Jan. 25. This follows the confusing enrollment that took place a week earlier. In addition, in a recent Minnesota Public Radio interview Jan Malcolm, the commissioner of health, noted that there may be a need for a volunteer health corps to assist with statewide immunization.
According to an article last month in USA Today, "One of the bumps is the need to train people to prepare and administer two vaccines that require special storage and handling, especially the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at minus 94 degrees and reconstituted before it can be administered."
The Biden administration, according to the New York Times, wants "to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign."
However, this cannot happen without considerable planning. As a retired physician I am willing and eager to help.
Minnesota needs to take several immediate steps toward simplifying registration for COVID vaccination and assuring that the likely upcoming need for volunteer health care providers is met in a timely fashion. Some of these changes are easy and equitable. The MDH should consider the following:
1. Randomize birth dates and allow immunization registration for individuals 65 or older who were born on randomly selected dates. This will immediately eliminate the frustrating rush to register.
Should an individual be fortunate enough to register under the current system, starting at 5 a.m. on Tuesdays, they are still randomized into those who will (or will not) be immunized. Why not randomize days and eliminate the wasted time and frustration?
2. With regard to creating a volunteer corps of vaccinators, it is likely there are hundreds of physicians, nurses and pharmacists who would be happy to volunteer. However, this will take some time. If the need is anticipated, preparations need to begin now, not in four weeks or, even worse, eight weeks.
3. While no doubt there will be volunteers, it is likely most will ask that they be immunized before providing broad public outreach. This is reasonable since most of us are over 65 and many are over 70.
4. Full immunization for new providers will require three to four weeks given the need for two injections.
5. After immunization, training will be required. It is likely that this will take another several weeks depending on the number of volunteers needed. Furthermore, this does not account for the need to develop and evaluate training programs.
6. Some retired practitioners may have allowed their licenses to lapse. They will need to renew their licenses to practice, or they will need an exemption.
7. MDH will need to decide how to cover any potential issues related to malpractice. No provider will be willing to be exposed to financial risk.
If Minnesota or other states wish to have a volunteer corps of health care professionals to provide COVID vaccines, recruitment, immunization and training need to start as soon as possible.
David Parker, of Minneapolis, is a retired physician.