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Vaccines begin picking up

Slowly but surely, Mower County is starting to ramp up distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Reports from both the Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday and the Austin School Board on Monday reflect how the distribution is finding smoother footing and broader spread.

Mower County Health and Human Services Director Crystal Peterson said that as of Monday 9.4 percent of the county has been vaccinated.

“It was closer to four percent two weeks ago,” Peterson told commissioners. “That’s in line with some counties [near us].”

Next door neighbor Freeborn County is at 8.9 percent Peterson said.

The faster distribution has been bolstered by an increase in available vaccines to the county. In those first weeks, the county was receiving just 100 vaccines every week. That’s now up to 300 a week over the course of the past two weeks.

With this next shipment, the county is allocating 100 of the 300 total doses to finish up healthcare workers that fall within the Priority 1a group. The remaining 200 will now be dispersed to child care workers and educators.

Some educators in the county were already receiving some of the doses when available, but as healthcare workers are finished, the county can more fully turn to getting that demographic vaccinated.

“At the end of last week, we had 167 staff members vaccinated,” said Mark Raymond, Human Resources director for Austin Public Schools said Monday night. “The county was allocating 200 total to education in Mower. They’ve worked with outlying schools and came up with a division of those so they can begin to vaccinate as well.”

Currently, the emphasis is on getting those who work in special education because of the higher risk related to some students not being able to properly wear masks because of their condition or any other outlying factors.

However, Raymond said the hope was to have APS staff completely vaccinated by the end of the month, but added, “There are no guarantees.”

It’s an optimistic turn the schools and counties are jumping on.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to work with staff proactively,” Raymond said. “Let them know they are eligible and have been selected. It’s been a really good partnership so far and will be better as we move forward.”

At the county level, Peterson also told commissioners that a wait list has been added to the county website for those 65 and older. When a person becomes eligible for the vaccine, they will be contacted.

So far only about 12 have been plucked from the list, but with healthcare workers expected to be fully vaccinated Thursday Peterson hopes more people will be chosen from that wait list.

Moving forward, Peterson said she’s optimistic that the rollout will continue picking up speed, particularly when pharmacists finally are able to come on board in the vaccination process.

An advantage to this is that pharmacists would get their own supply in addition to the county.

“That would be so welcome to us,” Peterson said. “They’ve got a relationship with a lot of these older individuals. We’re going to be in talks on what that might look like.”