The first COVID-19 vaccines in a few weeks for North Dakota, officials say

The first vaccine shipments to North Dakota are expected to be “extremely, extremely limited,” said Molly Howell, the Department of Health’s immunization program manager, and the state is still in the process of developing its plans for this. how to ration vaccines in the later stages of the immunization process. But with two effective vaccines awaiting federal approval in the coming weeks, the state said it plans to prioritize immunization of healthcare workers and nursing home residents in the early stages. of distribution.

Two different vaccines developed separately by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are due for federal approval later this month, and Howell said she expects a first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive. in North Dakota during the week of December 14. The Drug Administration is expected to consider greenlighting an emergency use permit for the Pfizer vaccine on December 10, and holding a similar hearing on Moderna’s vaccine later this month, the initial batches of both vaccines. being ready to ship within 24 hours of approval.

With both vaccines coming out of an unprecedented development and approval process, North Dakota public health experts on Wednesday stressed the safety of the injections, highlighting a rigorous federal approval process and over 90% effectiveness. vaccines from both companies in their trial phases.

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“I really want to assure people that the reduced lead time was a remarkable achievement that did not actually bypass the key elements of the FDA regulatory approval process which ensures that a vaccine must achieve very high safety.” said Dr. Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist at North Dakota State University and the Department of Health’s pandemic response consultant. Vaccine recipients should expect mild, short-term symptoms after the injection, Carson said, but neither vaccine has shown major side effects at this point.

As states brace for a massive distribution venture to immunize about 70% of the country by next spring, coordinating vaccine distribution is expected to be an unprecedented test for local public health messages and logistics. . A recent survey by the North Dakota Newspaper Association found that about two-thirds of North Dakota residents said they would take the vaccine, near the threshold epidemiologists deem necessary for herd immunity. But the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses several weeks apart, a requirement that Howell said could pose logistical challenges when vaccination of the general population begins in later stages.

Still, North Dakota has acquired freezers and shipping equipment to make it easier to store and ship vaccines at their needed cold temperatures, and Howell said she expects the state to be fine. equipped to distribute vaccines statewide. “I think we are very confident and I think North Dakota is probably better positioned than other states to distribute in rural areas,” she said.

In initial shipments later this month, North Dakota is expected to receive a small batch of 6,825 doses of Pfizer and 13,000 doses of Moderna, with the same number of second doses arriving later. Howell said that with these first doses, the state will prioritize healthcare workers at North Dakota’s four major medical centers, Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot, in addition to workers at some rural hospitals. with critical access. There are about 70,000 healthcare workers and 12,000 long-term care residents in North Dakota, and Howell said she expects the vaccination of long-term care residents to begin before the end of the year.

In the weeks following these initial shipments, the federal government will allocate additional doses to each state. The uncertainty around the size of these subsequent allocations remains a major open question for state officials as they decide how to ration vaccines in later stages, Howell said.

And while states are still awaiting federal guidance on how to prioritize subsequent vaccine shipments, Howell said the high-level instructions would likely be vague. The North Dakota COVID-19 Vaccination Ethics Board, made up of five public health volunteers, will advise heads of state on how to distribute these later phases on a more granular level. Howell presented tentative plans to prioritize essential workers like police, firefighters and teachers, as well as residents 65 and older who live outside long-term care facilities, among others high risk populations.

For everyone else in North Dakota, Howell encouraged patience. Most residents who do not belong to high-risk groups will likely not receive their immunizations until late spring or early summer.

Readers may contact Adam Willis, Forum reporter, member of the Report for America Corps, at [email protected]

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