COVID-19 vaccinations among Jackson’s most at-risk populations have started.
St. John’s Health received one box of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine Tuesday, setting itself up to inoculate health care workers this week and next. The box carries 975 doses, all of which will be used to begin vaccinating priority groups laid out by the Wyoming Department of Health.
“We have done our first five vaccinations. We have 96 staff members signed up for vaccination tomorrow,” St. John’s Health CEO Dr. Paul Beaupre said at a special hospital board meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Teton County Director of Health Jodie Pond told county commissioners Tuesday morning that about 2,000 people are in the priority groups in Teton County.
“So this will take us a little while,” she said.
The state Health Department laid out 17 subgroups in the 1a category, those who will be the first to receive the vaccine. The Teton County Health Department and St. John’s Health must go in order through the 17 groups, ensuring every person in each subgroup is offered the vaccine before moving onto the next one.
The Health Department is charged with vaccinating priority groups that aren’t health care workers, like first responders. The hospital will administer the vaccine to health care workers, both those that work for its clinics and others around town.
Pfizer’s vaccine is a two-shot treatment, with a booster given three weeks after the initial dose. It’s being distributed roughly in proportion with states’ and counties’ populations of people in the priority groups.
The 975 doses the county received eclipses what Teton County was set to receive from the first disbursement, so it’s unclear right now when the next shipment will come. At one point, health officials thought they might get weekly allotments, but until other counties have also received their share they don’t expect to see more locally.
However, they aren’t going to sit on the doses. St. John’s is taking 75% of them, and the Health Department will receive 25%. All should be given out in the next couple of weeks.
Before the booster shot is required, officials say they will get a second box from Pfizer, allowing them to complete the process for the first patients.
Given that there is a global need for the vaccine, the distribution is somewhat tricky, though the federal government has purchased tens of millions of doses from Pfizer and drugmaker Moderna, which could receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration this week.
Just five counties in Wyoming are receiving the Pfizer vaccine because they have the ultra-cold freezers needed to store it, and when the Moderna vaccine is authorized, the remaining counties will start to see shipments.
Beyond health care workers and other priority groups like nursing home residents and emergency responders, vaccinating the general population will be an undertaking. Pond estimated that about 18,000 people in Teton County above the age of 16 are eligible.
“We need about 80% of them to take the vaccine,” Pond told county commissioners.
Getting through the initial priority groups could stretch into the New Year, but it could be quicker if the Moderna vaccine is promptly authorized and distributed. The state Health Department wants individual counties to vaccinate priority groups at roughly the same pace, so once counties without ultra-cold storage capacity receive the Moderna vaccine, Teton County should see successive disbursements.
Once those priority groups are done, the general public will be able to be vaccinated. So far, health officials are not putting people on a waitlist, but, Pond said, by April or May everyday people could be vaccinated.
For now, health care officials are basking in the idea that this could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
“It’s a historic day,” Beaupre said.