How is area vaccine distribution going?

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

Cindy Urbaniak, Administrator of Public Health and Nursing Homes at Kittson Healthcare, has seen a mostly excited response to the COVID-19 vaccine during the early weeks of vaccinations in Kittson County.

“They’re happy to get vaccinated,” Urbaniak said. “Just goes to show I think everybody is patiently or impatiently waiting for a return to somewhat of a normal lifestyle.”

LifeCare Medical Center Public Health Nurse and Vaccine Coordinator Brooke Homstad has seen a mixed response in Roseau County. She explained how with any vaccine that comes about through emergency use authorization, some amount of hesitancy will exist.

“As for just internally— and we’re working on some external education— we’re trying to put things out there to try to ease some of the hesitancy that might be around right now,” Homstad said. “So with the increased education, we have seen an increase in vaccine willingness to receive, but it’s still a work in progress.”

These responses come as both Kittson County and Roseau County have delivered hundreds of first doses of the vaccine beginning back on December 28. These health care officials discussed the total vaccines administered, where their counties are at in terms of vaccination phases, the physical responses to the vaccine, COVID case levels, current and future vaccine administering, and their counties supply-demand vaccine situations.

Urbaniak said Kittson County Healthcare had administered close to 100 vaccines to its facilities’ health care workers, including its ambulance service. Speaking on January 14, Urbaniak said that during the prior week, they administered to nursing home residents and essential caregivers. In all, she estimated that the county had administered close to 200 vaccinations in the county so far.

“Out of giving 200 doses, I will say that the facility has not wasted any vaccine,” Urbaniak said, “which… can be tricky when you have to, once you open a vial, you have six hours to use what’s in the vial. So it takes some careful planning and strategy to do that.”

Urbaniak highlighted how Kittson Healthcare has been doing well in administering the vaccines in a timely fashion. She mentioned how the county has a controlled vaccine plan, working with Scott Olson, Kittson County Emergency Manager, an individual who is asking front line providers and workers if they want to get vaccinated. If they do, they are added to a vaccination list.

Speaking on January 15, Homstad said that LifeCare has administered a little over 600 doses in Roseau County. This does not count Roseau County residents who work in other counties and may receive the vaccine through another health care provider or the county in which they work.

The state is launching a community COVID vaccine pilot program with nine pilot sites across the state. These sites would vaccinate adults 65 years and older, PreK-12 educators, school staff and child care workers. Thief River Falls is the nearest pilot site to Kittson and Roseau County, according to the Minnesota COVID-19 Response’s “Find My Vaccine” online page (mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/find-vaccine/index.jsp).

Looking into the future, to administer its vaccines in a timely fashion to many people, Homstad explained how LifeCare will be using a template— one it has used for mass vaccinations for flu shot clinics. They did have practice rounds with flu shots to prepare them for COVID. But, as Homstad explained, Lifecare can’t completely recreate flu shot clinics into a COVID vaccine clinics, as the flu shot and COVID vaccine are different, specifically their storage and handling.

For example, in a prior interview, Homstad estimated that the Pfizer vaccine had to be stored in negative 60 degrees and below temperatures. LifeCare doesn’t have an ultra cold freezer, giving them less amount time to get that vaccine into people. The Moderna vaccine is easier to store, not requiring that ultra cold temperature storage.

Since it can’t completely recreate its flu shot clinics into COVID vaccine clinics, LifeCare, Homstad explained, will likely start with one site and branch out to other more mass vaccination clinics at other sites in the county. The logistics of this are still being worked out.

“From what we’ve done with our flu clinics… how fast we can get people through, we have a very good throughput,” Homstad said. “So that’s exciting for us, just because we have been practicing this for the last so many years. We know what our capabilities are. And we can do a very, very large number in one day, which is exciting for us. We just need the manpower behind it.”

Where are each of these counties currently at in terms of vaccine distribution?
Kittson Healthcare is completing Phase 1A— health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. Kittson Healthcare is planning to begin vaccinations within assisted living, the Karlstad group home, Tri-County Ambulance, Tri-County Fire Department, some law enforcement officials, and county morticians. It plans to finish up with health care worker vaccinations this week.

As for Roseau County, Homstad explained how things are changing at the state and federal level, but LifeCare is adjusting to what Homstad called a fluid situation.

“Right now, we have almost finished completely with the first phase,” Homstad, “which was the very first one that’s been out, but the state might be transitioning the way that they are encouraging people to vaccinate. So we will follow the guidance set forth by the MDH.”

To see the complete story, read the January 20 issue of The Tribune or the January 21 issue of the North Star News in print or online.

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