First COVID vaccinations arrive

MADISON REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEM received its first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week. Kathy Hansen (left), director of Quality, Safety, Education and Preparedness, administered one of the first doses to Meggan Reisch, CNP.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health announced that South Dakota's three major health-care providers -- Avera, Monument and Sanford -- had received their first batches of the FDA-authorized Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

"The arrival of this life-saving vaccine is something our department has been working and preparing for," Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said in a press release. "We look forward to working with our partners across the state to administer the vaccine in an organized and prioritized manner to all South Dakotans."

According to the DOH, South Dakota's initial allotment of COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government includes 7,800 Pfizer doses and 14,600 Moderna doses. The vaccine will be administered according to a 62-page vaccination plan which is posted on the department's website.

Currently, the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine, which is being administered at no cost, according to Tammy Miller, CEO of Madison Regional Health System.

An infographic on the DOH website indicates Phase 1 will roll out sequentially through five priority groups with frontline health-care workers and health-care workers at long-term care facilities receiving the vaccine first.

On Wednesday, MRHS announced on Facebook that employees were beginning to be vaccinated, posting three pictures with the announcement. The photos show Meggan Reisch, CNP, and Emily Spanier, PA-C, receiving shots, and pharmacy employee Ian Alverson holding a Styrofoam cooler.

Miller isn't sure how many employees will be vaccinated.

"I can't really nail that down," she said, not trying to dodge the question but reporting an unexpected development. "It depends upon each vial."

The regional health-care provider had been notified that it would receive 115 doses. However, as multiple news outlets announced earlier this week, the five-dose vials contain extra doses.

MRHS employs 280, Miller said. A survey of employees was conducted prior to the vaccine's arrival to determine interest and need.

"We had a really good positive response," she said, indicating the majority were interested in receiving the vaccine.

MRHS is following the state vaccination plan in identifying employees who qualify for the first round of vaccinations, according to Miller. They did not know until shortly before the doses arrived how many they would receive.

"It's been coming through very slowly," Miller said.

As additional doses become available, MRHS will be continuing to administer them according to the state's plan. Miller indicated they are already considering how to administer them to area first responders, who are Phase 1C on the state's plan.

"Depending upon how many doses we are allotted, we would vaccinate as many of those as we get vaccine for," Miller said.

Because of the way in which the vaccine distribution is unfolding, the health-care provider can only make tentative plans and respond to the situation as it evolves.

"It's a figure it out as you go concept," Miller said.

The state infographic said long-term care residents would be vaccinated following frontline health-care workers. Currently, Bethel Lutheran Home is waiting for the green light and the vaccine, according to administrator and CEO Chuck Johnson.

"We have no specific date at this time," he said.

Bethel has opted to obtain its vaccine from Omnicare, a long-term care pharmacy which is also a CVS subsidiary. That decision was made for the sake of consistency.

"They already deliver our meds here. It's easier to stay with one company," Johnson said.

The Omnicare representative has indicated to Bethel the company is waiting for the state to issue an activation plan to the federal government. Johnson admitted he's not quite sure what that entails. He said he and Director of Nursing Stacie Thompson are focused on ensuring Bethel is ready when the vaccine arrives.

Employees have been surveyed to identify those who are interested in receiving the vaccine.

"The level of interest is high, but there are some who are concerned about getting it for personal reasons," Johnson said. He respects this and said it's a matter for them to discuss with their primary care physicians.

In addition, Bethel has identified residents who are interested in being vaccinated.

"We are ready to go. We are just waiting for a date," Johnson said. He views distribution of the vaccine as a hopeful sign.

"I think it should give everyone the hope that we're getting to the end of the tunnel," he said. He believes it will be good for staff and residents alike to be able to resume normal activities.

The DOH has determined Phase 1C recipients will include other health-care workers, public health workers, emergency medical services, law enforcement and correctional officers. After these individuals have been vaccinated, the state has determined the following will be eligible to receive vaccinations: persons with two or more underlying conditions, those who are immunocompromised or have heart conditions, those who are severely obese, have sickle cell disease or Type II diabetes mellitus.

At the same time, as part of Phase 1D, the vaccine will be more widely distributed to teachers and other school staff, including college staff; individuals who are age 65 or older; individuals in congregate settings, such as licensed independent living facilities or licensed group homes; and funeral service workers. Phase 1E recipients will include fire service personnel and other critical infrastructure workers.

According to the COVID-19 vaccination plan posted on the DOH website, the state will transition into Phase 2 when the vaccination supply increases. At that point, messaging is expected to change and the state will begin to open PODs (point of distribution sites) where the vaccine can be administered.

Simultaneously, according to the state, "providers will initiate traditional vaccination services, including clinic appointments and/or walk-ins, mobile vaccination clinics, and vaccination strike teams." Eventually, the state expects the vaccine supply to outreach demand.

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