Over the next several weeks, we will begin to enter another wave of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts at a pace that will likely — hopefully — only speed up over the coming months.

The Forum is prepared and committed to providing all members of our community with the most up-to-date information available about when and where you can receive your vaccine, and who qualifies at what times. We take very seriously our duty in providing this vital service to the public, and are ready to follow through on the Nodaway County Health Department’s request that our community look to local media for centralized information on vaccinations.

But, the fact that local media must serve as the only central information hub for vaccination information shows that once again, local leaders have been left in the lurch by state and federal officials, who have opted to bypass county health departments as a central clearinghouse for vaccine distribution, and instead are also shipping vaccines directly to other health care providers like pharmacies and hospitals.

While there is certainly some logic to this, especially in the early stages where hospital workers are among the first to receive the vaccine, the byproduct is that if you were to ask any health official in Nodaway County — and we’ve asked just about every one — where residents will need to go to be vaccinated and when, the answer is that they have no way of knowing, even when they get their hands on more doses.

Currently, there is no agency in Nodaway County specifically charged with tracking and guiding vaccine distribution.

This decentralized approach means that each vaccinating entity — which will likely include pharmacies, the health department, Mosaic and Northwest Missouri State University — is responsible for its own orders of the vaccine, arranging for administering its own doses and putting out its own communications about when, where and to whom their vaccines will be administered. And to reiterate, we say “likely” because no one knows when or if their own organization will receive more vaccines, much less anyone else in the county.

Clearly, this is not the fault of local officials, who are working tirelessly to ensure everyone can eventually receive a vaccine, and luckily, our community is small, and health officials across the county are used to sharing information and resources effectively for the good of the public.

But this puts the onus on each entity to get in contact with each other separately to know who has what, where and when. You don’t have to squint too hard to see where a whole host of logistical issues involving space, sign-up redundancies and muddled public communication could pop up quickly.

We have taken our cue from the health department, and have begun the process of reaching out to health care providers across the county. We will work with each one to ensure that every Nodaway County resident knows when they specifically will be eligible to receive a vaccine, and where they can get it.

But we believe both health officials and county residents would be well served by the formation of a countywide COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force made up of representatives from each organization that intends to provide vaccinations, and which includes a designated public liaison to handle community contacts and messaging.

There is no doubt that local health care providers are already well-versed in sharing information and resources with one another. But a local-government-backed task force charged with working together to coordinate an efficient vaccine rollout would likely allow for easier sign-ups and inoculation event planning, and result in fewer redundancies.

Additionally, an organized task force would provide a sense of security and accountability about the vaccine effort, and it would send a message that Nodaway County’s leaders are prepared and working together — a sign that someone is actually in charge and ready for the challenge ahead.

But most of all, the task force would provide massive, clear benefits to the public, who could otherwise be inundated with information from all sides about different vaccines available at different locations at different times to different people from different entities. A public-facing liaison, representing the coordinated effort of all vaccinators in the county, would give Nodaway County residents just one place to keep track of, and just one point of contact. 

Furthermore, regular public meetings would allow for more transparency, easier compilation of data in the public sphere and a framework for regular, across-the-board updates on vaccinations instead of information provided piecemeal by each individual entity.

There are many ways such a task force could be formed, but we believe the most sensible way is for the Nodaway County Commission to take the lead. The commissioners are the county’s top elected authority, and their creation and endorsement of such a task force would yield the most effective results. While such a committee would not have any legal authority, we believe that if it is created and overseen by the county commission, vaccinators will be more likely to trust in the task force’s staying power, and may be more likely to cooperate than if the effort were led privately or by a government agency with a more limited scope of authority.

It’s early days yet, and planning for how the vaccine rollout will proceed in our county is just getting underway — slowed by the uncertainty over when vaccines will become available again and to whom.

But the process will only ramp up from here, and distribution will accelerate across the country in a matter of months. Before that happens, Nodaway County’s leaders should fill the vacuum left by our federal and state officials when they decided once again that we could figure out the details of dealing with a global pandemic on our own.

We’re confident that working together, we can.

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