NJ kidney clinics would love to vaccinate patients but can't get a supply

William Madley's life revolves around his thrice-weekly dialysis treatments at Fresenius Kidney Care of West Essex, New Jersey. His nephew dutifully shuttles him back and forth, ensuring he doesn't miss a beat.

"I'd like to know, what's the holdup?" Madley, 75, said. "We are at the bottom of the list."

Just once, this septuagenarian wishes he could show up for treatment and also receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which is a necessity for such a vulnerable population.

"I would mean a whole lot," Madley said. "My wife got both shots already."

Sandra Davis feels the same way. However, unlike Madley, she relies solely on public transit to get to and from her doctor and dialysis appointments.

Both Davis and Madley are vaccine eligible in New Jersey by age and comorbidity but the vaccine appointments have consistently conflicted with their treatments.

"They would come to my building but I would have to come to dialysis Monday, Wednesday and Friday," Davis said. "Tuesday and Thursday, they never come."

It is not an understatement to say that getting the vaccine at the dialysis center would be the most convenient way for this medically vulnerable population to become immunized. But in New Jersey, dialysis centers are not a priority.

"The ball has been dropped on the dialysis population — these patients should have been [a] priority," said Tina Tomasella, the clinical nurse manager at Fresenius.

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Kidney patients have been vaccine-eligible in New Jersey since Jan. 14. But a spokesperson for the state's Department of Health, Donna Leusner, told FOX 5 NY that clinics cannot receive shipments because there isn't enough to go around.

"At this time, vaccine supply is limited and not all qualified sites can be allocated vaccines," Leusner said. "The department has been working with the statewide dialysis organizations on a plan to provide vaccine as soon as supply increases."

About 16% of New Jersey dialysis patients have been vaccinated. Each patient acquired the shot on their own, outside of their dialysis clinic.

It is a vastly different story in Minnesota, which has vaccinated 80% of its dialysis population at its health clinics. Massachusetts has immunized 69%.

Fresenius Kidney Care staff say immunizing its patients would be very easy. The center already has full health histories on record and consent from patients, and is staffed with a full medical team. Plus, the center already administers the vaccines against hepatitis and flu.

Dr. Robert Zenenberg, a nephrologist at Fresenius, said he believes some of his patients who died during this pandemic might still be alive if they'd had immediate access to the vaccine.

It is not just dialysis centers. New Jersey has not prioritized other health centers, like cancer centers or specialty hospitals, either. Despite the fact that these patient populations are severely immune-compromised or suppressed, with significant comorbidities, making them ideal candidates for the vaccine.