SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Since vaccinations began in December, 210,032 South Dakotans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC. South Dakota’s vaccination program also stands out from its neighbors, at least in terms of percent vaccinated. According to the CDC, at 29% of South Dakotans have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Here’s how we stack up to our neighboring states, per the CDC:
Note: Vaccination numbers differ between the DOH and CDC due to the fact that the VA and IHS report to the federal government, not the state department.
- South Dakota: 256,122 people receiving at least one vaccination — 29%
- North Dakota: 209,842 people receiving at least one vaccination — 27.5%
- Montana: 269,085 people receiving at least one vaccination — 25.2%
- Wyoming: 134,295 people receiving at least one vaccination — 23.2%
- Nebraska: 480,168 people receiving at least one vaccination — 24.8%
- Iowa: 794,504 people receiving at least one vaccination — 25.2%
- Minnesota: 1,436,197 people receiving at least one vaccination — 25.5%
In fact, it is not only bordering states that South Dakota beats in terms of percentage of population receiving at least one vaccination. There are only two other states that lead South Dakota in this metric; Alaska, at 29.6%, and New Mexico, with 31.4%.
So why has South Dakota been so successful, and how exactly has the plan been implemented? To find out, we reached out to the Dept. of Health, as well as representatives of both the Sanford and Avera health systems. We also reached out to Monument Health, but at the time of writing, we have not been able to secure an interview.
According to Daniel Bucheli, director of communications for the South Dakota Department of Health, the success of the DOH in the field of vaccination comes from “preparation over panic.”
“While most states were scrambling to put a plan together,” says Bucheli, “ours had begun already planning out delivery and administration plans well in advanced, as early as August of last year.”
This was a sentiment echoed by Andrea Polkinghorn, the Immunization Strategy Leader for Sanford Health. “We started planning in August at Sanford, and we didn’t get vaccines until December, so that’s a long time,” she says.
The other main factors Bucheli points to for the state’s success has been the close working relationships between the DOH and the health systems, as well as “keeping open lines of communication throughout the process.”
This was also reflected in a comment from Dr. Basel, the Vice President of Clinic Quality for the Avera Medical Group, who told us that communication has been one of the areas in which the DOH been most effective, saying “They have been great about sharing information coming out of the FDA and CDC just as soon as they get it.”
Basel also says the state has helped in the form of tracking and sharing data such as “county level vaccination rates on an ongoing basis so we know which counties we needed to focus more on.”
One of the clearest ways that communication is shown is in the form of weekly meetings. According to Polkinghorn, Sanford Health has two weekly meetings with the DOH, one on Tuesdays and the other on Fridays. In the Tuesday meeting, she says they discuss how many doses they will receive, as well as how they plan to disburse them, as well as giving them time to talk about how their distribution is going. The Friday meetings are held with all of the state’s vaccinating partners, says Polkinghorn, which includes the major healthcare systems, the VA, IHS and others such as retail pharmacies.
When it comes to vaccine availability, it all starts with the federal government, which Bucheli says are allocated weekly. He says one of the DOH’s biggest challenges has been this allocation.
“While the Federal Government has steadily increased vaccine allocation to states, the biggest challenge is supply,” says Bucheli. “We are hopeful April/May will bring significant increases in supply, as we stand at the ready to rollout large number of doses as soon as they become available. Another challenge is that we only have a week’s notice as to what is coming next week, a further outlook would be helpful, and is something the federal government has promised they are working on.”
Once these doses are obtained by the state, Bucheli says there is an “open conversations with our systems,” during which it is decided where the vaccines need to go throughout the state. Bucheli says this is a collaborative effort, and that the department adheres to strict guidelines as it comes to vaccine allocation and distribution as required by the federal government.
Once the vaccines are in the hands of the health systems, they are quickly moved out to where they will be put to the best use, following the guidelines from the state in terms of which populations are currently eligible for vaccination.