County gears up for vaccine program
December 17, 2020
Light has appeared at the end of the tunnel as Wyoming began administering the new COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday – and Crook County prepares to do the same. The first doses are expected to arrive in the state within days and will be directed to the medical workers and first responders on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic.
“We have an end in sight at this point, which was not true for many months during this pandemic. We have hope and a reminder that this situation is for now and not forever,” said state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist in a press release announcing the beginning of the vaccination campaign.
“The number of vaccine doses available at first will be quite limited, so setting priorities to ensure the early doses reach those who need it most is part of the plan we’ve developed together with our county and healthcare provider partners.”
The news comes at the same time as confirmation from John Hopkins University that the death toll from COVID-19 in the United States has reached the milestone of 300,000. Put in context, this means that approximately one in every thousand Americans has now succumbed to the novel coronavirus.
The vaccines promise to alter this path. They have the potential to curb the spread if enough people are vaccinated to create a state of herd immunity.
The first vaccine shipments are expected to go to public health departments in Casper and Cheyenne and hospitals in Cody, Jackson and Gillette. As shipments continue and additional vaccines are authorized, the amount of available doses for Wyoming will almost certainly grow.
Crook County was originally expecting to receive a limited number of doses of the Pfizer vaccine within this first batch. However, says Public Health Nurse Manager Carol Stutzman, because the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at extremely low temperatures, the state has opted instead to send the Moderna version to places that do not yet have an ultra-cold freezer.
A total of 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in Crook County imminently, she says, followed quickly by another 100 doses. Though the vaccine must be administered twice to each person in order to be effective, this still means that 300 people locally will have the opportunity to be vaccinated through this first batch.
That’s because, explains Stutzman, when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sends you 200 doses, “It’s guaranteed that you will get your second dose for those 200 people in about three weeks to one month.”
The precise timing for the vaccines to arrive has yet to be confirmed because the Moderna vaccine is still being evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, “It does not have its emergency use authorization yet,” Stutzman says; however, this decision is also expected very soon.
A priority list has been created at the state level to ensure those most at risk and emergency personnel are vaccinated first.
“These are to start with the hospital staff – people who are working directly in patient care and emergency department staff,” she says.
After the hospital staff, says Stutzman, “The second would be EMS and fire, the third would be long-term care and assisted living healthcare providers. Next would be the public health staff who are actually administering vaccines.”
Not every category on the state’s list applies to Crook County; we do not, for example, have a tribal public health service or in-patient behavioral medicine services. Other high-level categories that do apply here include law enforcement, long-term care and assisted living residents, home healthcare providers, school nurses and pharmacy staff.
COVID-19 vaccination has been approved for anyone over the age of 16. Pregnant women and the immunocompromised are also able to get the vaccine, says Stutzman.
“If you’ve had COVID-19 within the last 90 days, it’s your choice whether you want to get the vaccine or not within the 90 days,” Stutzman says.
The only area of concern, in fact, is that certain people may have an allergy to a substance used in the vaccine – but that’s nothing new, Stutzman says. “That’s how it is with all the regular vaccines, also,” she explains.
At this time, the vaccine is to be administered at no cost to the patient.
“This is a voluntary vaccine and there is no testing that has to be done,” Stutzman says. Employers are not permitted to make the vaccine mandatory.
Public Health is now creating a list of Crook County residents who would like to be administered the vaccine. The reasoning behind the list, says Stutzman, is that the vaccine itself is packaged in sets of doses.
Once a package is opened, the doses must be used up within a matter of hours. To ensure no vaccines are wasted, Public Health will be setting up timeslots.
If you would like to place yourself and/or your family members on the list, contact the Crook County Public Health office at 283-1142. You will be contacted when the vaccine is available to you.
In the meantime, Stutzman recommends seeking further information about the vaccine by visiting the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices website at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/index.html. The Wyoming Department of Health and CDC websites also include up-to-date information about COVID-19 and the vaccines.