As the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine began arriving in five communities around Wyoming last week, health officials in Johnson County were refining the details of the county’s vaccine plan.
And now, vaccine doses are on the horizon for the county. On Dec. 20, the Wyoming Department of Health indicated that Johnson County is slated to recive 400 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of the year. The Food and Drug Administration cleared the Moderna vaccine for emergency use on Friday. On Tuesday, Johnson County public health response coordinator Robin King said vaccinations are set to begin next week.
These doses will likely be split between the county public health office and the hospital, with 75% of the doses going to the hospital and 25% to public health, said Trisha Thompson, county public health nurse manager.
Johnson County Healthcare Center CEO Sean McCallister also said health officials finalized the order that vaccines will be distributed among the community, starting with nurses, staff and residents.
“Our plan is to vaccinate Amie Holt nursing staff first and foremost,” he said. “We are working with Walgreens out of Sheridan to vaccinate residents in the care center.”
The care center is working with Walgreens through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program, a federal initiative to vaccinate
vulnerable populations while reducing time and costs for long-term care facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Walgreens will manage the entire process, including scheduling, ordering supplies, cold chain management and reporting, according to Brenda Gorm, director of the care center.
“They’ll come to our facility, they’ll manage everything, they’ll do it how we want it,” she said. “We’re going to take them room to room and have them do the residents.”
Gorm said that while they cannot require residents to get the vaccine, a majority of the residents or their representatives have already agreed to it.
McCallister said that Walgreens is not expected to provide vaccinations until the beginning of January, so the hospital may decide to use its own expected supply at the care center.
“We can go ahead and pull the trigger,” he said. “And if there’s too much lag time, we may make a decision to do the residents ourselves and not delay.”
McCallister said the next segment of health care workers to be vaccinated will be hospital nurses “who have prolonged contact with COVID patients.” They will be followed by doctors and other nurses at the hospital.
McCallister noted that because the vaccine is under emergency use authorization at this time, hospital staff cannot be required to receive the vaccination, though this could change in the future if the vaccine’s approval status changes.
“We will strongly encourage all team members to get vaccinated because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
King said that the state continues to refine the priority categories, though priority group 1A has been defined. The state considers 1A “critical populations,” which generally speaking are healthcare employees and other kinds of workers likely to be exposed to COVID-19 or to treat people who are already exposed, such as people who work in law enforcement or pharmacies.
Based on the number of Johnson County residents in the 1A group and the number of vaccines the county believes it will receive, King said that “we’ll move through that priority group pretty quickly.”
Once the county has vaccinated everyone in priority group 1A who wishes to receive the vaccination, King said the county will “put the word out” about which populations they are targeting for the next round.
On Tuesday afternoon, there were 33 active cases in Johnson County. Since the pandemic began in March, there have been 317 laboratory-confirmed cases in the county, 189 probable cases, 468 recoveries and five deaths. Recoveries include both lab-confirmed and probable cases. There were four COVID-19 positive patients hospitalized at the Johnson County hospital.
King said that while the availability of the vaccination does bring a measure of hope, people should remember that the vaccine is “just part of our toolbox, we still need to do social distancing, mask wearing and good hand washing hygiene.”
Among Wyoming residents, there have now been 373 coronavirus-related deaths; 36,550 lab-confirmed cases; and 5,829 probable cases reported since the pandemic began. The state has recorded 40,128 recoveries.
A statement from the Wyoming Department of Health said that “deaths among Wyoming residents are added to the state’s coronavirus-related death total based on official death certificate information. If death certificates do not describe COVID-19 as either causing or contributing to a person’s death, those deaths are not included in Wyoming’s count of coronavirus-related deaths.”