ENTERPRISE — The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Wallowa County.
Wallowa Memorial Hospital received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine — which late last week received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration — early in the afternoon on Monday, Dec. 21, WMH Communications Director Brooke Pace told the Chieftain.
The hospital has received 100 doses of the vaccine, which will be administered to health care workers throughout the county — not just at the hospital — in accordance with the rollout plan put together by the Oregon Health Authority.
“I think it’s exciting times that we’re able to have this vaccine so quickly for frontline staff,” said Stacey Karvoski, quality improvement director and nurse at Wallowa Memorial. “Hopefully this summer, (or) this spring, it would be available to the general public.”
Pace said the hospital knew it would receive 100 doses in its first shipment, but was uncertain of when the vaccine would arrive.
She said that when the shipment showed up Monday, “That was the indication of ‘it’s our time.’"
Vaccinations began Tuesday, Pace said, with those individuals identified as workers with the greatest risk of contracting the virus. She said by the end of the day Wednesday, more than 50% of the vaccine allocations will be administered.
“We have created a priority list based upon the greatest potential for exposure,” Pace said. “So, for instance, an emergency medical service worker who goes out on call has a higher risk of exposure than, say, someone working in a back office.”
Care providers at Wallowa Memorial Hospital and Medical Clinics, Winding Waters Clinic, Center for Wellness, Affordable Integrated Medicine and Olive Branch all have been identified in the first wave of individuals at the top of the eligibility list given their potential for exposure. Pace said that the initial list, which also includes local dentists, has more than 200 individuals on it “identified as health care personnel in Wallowa County.”
“This is for the entire county, not just for our organization here at the hospital,” Pace said.
Getting vaccinated, though, is entirely optional — even for those at the top of the list.
“At this point in time, this vaccine, just like all other vaccines, is not mandatory for our staff,” Pace said. “This could change with a state or federal mandate. Regardless, if an employee has been vaccinated or not, all hospital employees — and I can’t speak for the other (organizations) — will still be required to go through a screening process for symptoms before starting work,” and will still be required to wear a mask and practice the now well-known safety measures.
How many of those who are eligible to get vaccinated will indeed do so is unknown.
Pace said as a result of the varied public opinion about the vaccine “that we’re not sure how many takers we’re going to have. It is certainly our hope that we would (administer all of these doses) this week.”
Pace did say that word about the vaccine being in the county still was being circulated when she spoke with the Chieftain on Monday, indicating it was likely too early to know who would say “yes” or “no” to the shot, at least to start.
“I think it’s a very personal thing,” Pace said. “Some people are excited, some people are wanting to really read through this emergency-use authorization. There’s a lot to dig into. People are wanting to dig into the research.”
When the next doses arrive is not yet known. Pace said, though, the county has been promised it would receive the next round in time to complete the inoculation for the two-shot vaccine. The Moderna vaccine requires the second shot be taken four weeks after the initial shot — a week longer than the Pfizer vaccine, which was rolled out last week. Pace said, though, the timeline isn’t so strict that it has to be exactly 28 days later.
“Our goal is to get these 100 doses in bodies as quickly as possible, and then plan the second vaccine,” she said. “There is a bit of a window. It just can’t be before day 28.”