The vaccines are coming.
The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is expected to arrive in Teton County on Tuesday, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said. Other than that, however, the details are still vague.
Pfizer’s vaccine, which requires two shots three weeks apart, ships in boxes of 975 doses, but the number that will be allocated to Teton County is in flux. Health officials say they have heard numbers that range from 200 to 1,000 doses, but St. John’s Health chief communications officer Karen Connelly said Monday that they were expecting “several hundred doses.”
St. John’s is the receiving point for vaccines headed to neighboring counties, as well as for Teton County, because it purchased the ultra-cold freezers needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at minus-90 degrees. Once the shipment arrives, some doses will be distributed to Lincoln and Sublette counties.
No matter how many doses arrive, they won’t sit around for long.
Health officials have “been told by the CDC that we should not hold back vaccine for the second dose,” Teton County public health coordinator Rachael Wheeler said. “We should give out the first dose and know that we will be sent additional shipments for the subsequent dose.”
St. John’s will take the lead on vaccinating health care workers, both those at the hospital and other clinics. The Teton County Health Department, Wheeler said, will be in charge of inoculating priority groups other than most health care workers.
The state Health Department has released its recommendations for which groups should be vaccinated first. Mostly, the groups include people who are in contact with COVID-19 or at a heightened risk of exposure. Residents of nursing homes, public health officials, health care workers and first responders are among the 17 groups identified as priorities.
However many doses arrive in Teton County this week, they will be in no way sufficient to vaccinate all the people who fall into those categories. Indications from Pfizer and drugmaker Moderna, which is waiting on emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, are that doses will be continually shipped out as production ramps up going into next year.
The hospital plans to administer the first local doses Wednesday, if distribution goes as planned, Connelly said. Staffers are excited for the vaccines, and the rollout will ramp up over the next few days as they figure out capacity and supply.
Guidance from the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices tells providers to ensure they are vaccinating a percentage of any one department or group at one time. So, St. John’s would only give shots to a few emergency room nurses at once, rather than all of them, and the Health Department would only give them to a few police officers.
That slow rollout for each group is because of the potential for side effects. Up to 80% of people who receive the vaccine may experience some side effects. Though most will be mild, like soreness at the injection site, some people develop stronger symptoms that may keep them out of work for a day. Because the vaccine produces an immune reaction to the viral proteins, some people experience symptoms that mirror COVID-19 but usually only for a day or so.
A well-balanced approach to who is given the vaccine ensures that an entire shift of hospital nurses isn’t out the day after they are vaccinated.
Once the initial disbursement of doses is gone, the hope is that more will be on its heels. Deti said that once Moderna’s vaccine receives emergency authorization, the goal is for all counties in Wyoming to have some amount of vaccines by the end of next week.
For those not in the priority groups, it will be a while until the vaccines are available. Once all the health care workers and first responders are vaccinated, health care officials will begin developing a plan to bring in community members.
“Everyone is so eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We just ask you to be patient with us,” Wheeler said about starting a waitlist for nonpriority groups. “We’re not ready yet for that because we’re focusing on this first tiered group.”