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Area health facilities receive a large piece of the puzzle: COVID vaccine

A registered nurse at the hospital, Jennifer Hanson became the first person to get the Pfizer COVID vaccine at Kittson Healthcare on December 28. (submitted photo)

Martha Lystad, PhD, FNP-BC, received her COVID-19 vaccine on Monday (December 28), the first day that it was available in Roseau County! “I encourage everyone to receive the vaccine when it is available to them,” says Lystad. (submitted photo)

On December 28, Dr. James Surdy, MD, became the second person to get the Pfizer COVID vaccine at Kittson Healthcare. (submitted photo)

LifeCare Medical Center Public Health Nurse and Vaccine Coordinator Brooke Homstad has had COVID personally and doesn’t want to go through it again. So, how did she feel when she found out the vaccine would be coming to Roseau County?

“I am excited that I don’t have to go through that again,” Homstad said. “I’m happy, and I can protect my loved ones.”
Roseau County and Kittson County would begin administering their first COVID-19 vaccines to people in their county, specifically health care workers, on December 28.

Homstad and LifeCare Medical Center Registered Nurse and Infection Preventionist Jodi Beito out of Roseau County, and Kittson County Public Health Director Cindy Urbaniak discussed the vaccines coming to their counties, the process of retrieving and using the vaccines, the first individuals getting the vaccine and guidance for those who do take it, potential vaccine side effects, health care staff reactions to the vaccine arrival and their messages to those potentially on the fence about taking it.

Homstad went to pick up LifeCare’s batch of the Pfizer vaccine on December 28 from a coalition LifeCare is working with out of Bemidji — a coalition that been preparing for the vaccine for weeks— Homstad said.

“We have been doing nothing but planning and preparing. For us, we had to do a series of different numbers and surveys and things like that to get the number (of vaccines) to the coalition,” Homstad said. “And, for our first allotment, we are getting enough to cover our staff and then some of our EMS that are out in the community. So we put (down) enough numbers so that way we could get enough to cover many of those in the first phase, priority one.”

LifeCare will receive the Moderna vaccine as well moving forward. Urbaniak said Kittson Healthcare received the Moderna vaccine last week, but won’t use this vaccine until next week. Why?

Urbaniak said Kittson Healthcare plans to use up the Pfizer vaccine first, specifically on healthcare workers— the first priority. It sent an employee to Bemidji to pick up this vaccine on December 28. As these health care representatives explained, these area facilities will be implementing the Pfizer vaccines right away on December 28 and using them up as soon as possible, due to the Pfizer vaccine’s ultra cold freezer storage requirement. Homstad estimated that the Pfizer vaccine had to be in negative 60 degrees and below temperatures.

“We don’t have an ultra cold freezer. We have a less amount of time to get that vaccine into people,” Homstad said, “because we can’t put it back and forth in the fridge. There’s a lot of storage and handling that comes into this. And so we have to be really meticulous of how we handle the vaccine.”

Urbaniak said Kittson Healthcare has 85 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and has five days to use them once they are moved from their ultra cold temperature environment.

The Moderna vaccine is easier to store, not requiring that ultra cold temperature storage. Urbaniak said that once it moves the Moderna vaccine from the freezer, it has 30 days to use that vial. Once it punctures the vial, it has to use the 10 doses in that vial within six hours. Kittson Healthcare received 100 Moderna vaccines last week and was to receive 100 more on December 29. It plans to use the Moderna vaccine on long-term care residents and essential services workers.

“It requires a lot of logistical planning to make sure we’re not going to waste any of the vaccine,” Urbaniak said, “and we’re going to try very hard not to waste anything.

In terms of vaccine distribution, it is a number’s game, Homstad explained.

“How many people are in that phase? How many people still need to be vaccinated? This is how much you can come and get,” Homstad said.

This first phase of vaccination, Beito and Homstad explained, will cover vaccinators, frontline staff, long-term care residents, assisted living tenants, hospital employees, and first responders, such as EMS and law enforcement. If LifeCare has enough vaccines, they will extend the vaccine distribution to community healthcare workers— part of that first phase of distribution— and further down in this phase, dental office workers.

As Homstad explained, currently public health will be getting some Moderna vaccines. The Pfizer vaccines have been allotted more towards the hospital coalition at this time— an arrangement that could change, Homstad said.

As these health professionals explained, those phase one health care workers are not mandated to take this vaccine, given the choice to do so.

LifeCare did send out a survey to see how many would take the vaccine and sent credible educational material to allow these individuals to make an informed decision.

“The more that they have credible information, the more comfortable they’ll feel,” Homstad said. “and they’ll see that there is a lot of hard stops and work that goes into ensuring these vaccines are safe and effective.”

Urbaniak said 90 plus Kittson Healthcare employees signed up to take the vaccine— having half of its staff agree to take it immediately— but some are choosing to wait.

“I kind of feel like some of those that are choosing to wait are going to wait to see how this first round of vaccination goes and kind of what their coworkers are saying about it,” Urbaniak said. “… Then I think as people get a little bit more comfortable with the whole vaccine thing and the side effects that they’re hearing about, I think more people on the waitlist will decide to get vaccinated.”

Speaking of side effects, as Beito explained, the side effects are mild and temporary.

“We want these vaccines to create an immune response. And the best way to know that we’ve had an immune response and this vaccine is going to work for us is if we have some soreness at our (shot) site,” Beito said. “And we have maybe a low grade fever, or we have a little headache or some muscle aches. Those are the common side effects.”

As for the efficacy of the vaccine, Beito highlighted how the flu shot has an efficacy rate of 40 to 50 percent. In trials, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both have efficacy rates against COVID above 94 percent.

“With an efficacy rate of that, it’s worth a headache for a day or two,” Beito said, “or a minor side effect for a day or two with a rate that’s going to protect you from COVID-19.”

To see the complete story, read the December 30 issue of The Tribune or the December 31 issue of the North Star News in print or online.

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