Now that the Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccines, Avera has been administering the first doses that have been allocated by the state to frontline health care workers.
A clinic was held at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital Saturday to begin the distribution process to these employees.
“We at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital are grateful that the vaccine is here and we can begin the lifesaving work of administering vaccines. While the vaccine won’t be available to everyone right away, please be assured that we will keep you informed. We recommend that people get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them,” said Interim Avera Queen of Peace Hospital Regional President and CEO Doug Ekeren.
“A safe and effective vaccine is a vital step toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Basel, MD, Vice President of Avera Medical Group Quality. “The more people who get the vaccine, the closer we can get to ‘back to normal’ and see reduced illness and hospitalizations due to this virus. While masking and social distancing are important, a large number of people getting vaccinated is the only way this virus will get under control. The more people who get the vaccine, the more lives will be saved.”
The FDA has undergone a rigorous process to ensure this vaccine is safe and effective. “Avera and state health experts have monitored the vaccine’s progress and the data from the clinical studies and are confident in its safety and effectiveness,” Basel said.
Data on the vaccines is very promising. Vaccines are showing effectiveness levels as high as 95 percent. Side effects are generally mild and temporary, like headache, fatigue, mild fever and pain at the injection site. The first vaccine is approved for patients age 16 and older.
Vaccine allocation to states and locations is being based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health officials, positivity rates, vaccine storage requirements, and national guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences as well as the Catholic Healthcare Association.
In South Dakota, the state health department is asking health systems, including Avera, to distribute the vaccine.
In Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, state health departments are working directly with vaccination sites for distribution.
Avera started by vaccinating those health care workers essential to caring for the sickest patients in Sioux Falls in recent weeks with the Pfizer vaccine. Other regional centers in Aberdeen, Mitchell, Pierre and Yankton, as well as critical access hospitals, have received the Moderna vaccine. “This enables us to meet storage and vaccine integrity requirements,” Basel said.
Frontline workers include those in emergency medicine, intensive care and COVID units who are at the highest risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Long-term care staff are also in the first wave.
“This is a great day!” said Dr. Hilary Rockwell, an ER physician who also serves as the chief medical officer at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, after getting her first shot. “The vaccine is our path out of the pandemic, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to get this vaccine.”
“Being the physician who diagnosed the first case in the state, I have been on the frontline ever since and have witnessed the devastation it has caused our community,” added Dr. George Imuro, a hospitalist at Avera Queen of Peace. “I have five children and a wife to whom I return to every night. Through the vaccine, I protect myself, my family, the community and my patients. I want to become COVID-proofed so that no one can get it from me downstream.”
Next, Avera will move to long-term care residents in South Dakota per CDC and state guidelines.
After this point, people will receive the vaccine based on their risk factors. This includes people who are 65 years of age or older or who have certain chronic medical conditions. Examples of these conditions include cancer, COPD, kidney disease, heart conditions, an immunocompromised state and diabetes.
Due to limited supply of the vaccine, not everyone will be able to get vaccinated right away. Healthy adults without risk factors may not receive the vaccine until this spring. At this time, Avera cannot predict a time frame beyond the first several weeks. The vaccine involves two doses. To develop immunity to COVID-19, it will be important to get both doses.
Avera will provide patients with information and education they need to make an informed decision about vaccination. The vaccine will only be administered to groups of people for whom the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective.
Patients do not need to contact their clinic to inquire about the COVID-19 vaccine. Current information on vaccine availability can be found at Avera.org/covid-vaccine.