Both facilities reported this week that they have no vaccine available.
Nobles County Public Health received its first doses of the Moderna vaccine Dec. 28 and began vaccinations the next day, according to Michelle Ebbers, Community Health Services Administrator. Ten staff members have been helping with the vaccination process, spending three days a week for the past four weeks to administer the vaccine.
On Thursday, the staff completed the first round of vaccinations for individuals in Phase 1A who wanted the vaccine. This included health care providers, emergency medical services staff, residents and staff at long-term-care/assisted living facilities and group homes, and other health care professions.
The local public health department also provided COVID-19 vaccine to Avera Medical Group Worthington and Access Family Medical Clinic. According to Cale Feller, director of media relations and corporate communications for the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Avera, approximately 50% of Avera’s Worthington employees have been vaccinated.
“We are awaiting further direction in regards to a community vaccine plan and will be working with local and state public health in these efforts,” Feller said.
Meanwhile, Sanford Worthington Medical Center conducted a “semi-large vaccination clinic” at the hospital over three days in December, followed up 21 days later with the second dose, according to CEO Jennifer Weg.
The hospital received the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept frozen until prepped for distribution. Approximately 75% of Sanford Worthington employees chose to receive the vaccine, with 261 people completing the two-vaccine series, Weg shared.
“We are pleased with this high participation rate as it is higher than the national average,” she said. “Some employees had personal reasons not to take the vaccine, and some employees needed a short delay and will participate as soon as they are able. We expect that will push us well above the current 75% participation rate.”
Earlier this month, the hospital invited local priority group 3 people — dentists, pharmacists, school and industry nurses and other health care professionals — for their first vaccine dose.
“We expect the remainder of Phase 1A to be offered vaccine by the last week in January, as directed by Minnesota Department of Health,” Weg said. “When phase 1A reaches completion, we will be able to move to Phase 1B. This includes persons 65 and older and essential workers.”
Weg assures the public that Sanford’s facilities are ready to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible community members once it’s received. Private providers are vaccinating residents of long-term-care and assisted living facilities in the county.
According to the most recent available data from the Minnesota Department of Health, 782 Nobles County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday. With a county population of 21,839, that equates to 3.6%.
In comparison, Cottonwood County has vaccinated 5.2% of its population (593 of 11,372 residents), Rock County 5.1% (476 of 9,413), Murray County 4% (334 of 8,353), Jackson County 3.7% (372 of 10,047), and Pipestone County 3.2% (298 of 9,185 residents).
Ebbers said the COVID-19 vaccination process is a learning experience for everyone involved, and noted that lessons are being learned and applied both within the State Emergency Operations Center and local entities.
“As (we) move forward, lessons are learned and integrated in order to make processes run smoother,” she said.
That said, the department is gearing up for the next round of vaccinations — Phase 1B, which is individuals age 65 and older, daycare providers and K-12 educators.
“Hopefully we receive some guidance from the State Emergency Operations Center on who receives the vaccinations first,” Ebbers said. “If that does not become available, there are six registered provider organizations … within the county that are currently meeting and will be able to step up and make these decisions for the benefit of all.”
Once the vaccines have arrived in Nobles County, Ebbers said it hasn’t taken long to get them distributed. The Moderna vaccine arrives frozen. Once a needle is inserted into a vial, the vaccine must be used within six hours.
“We make certain that we have a waiting list of individuals who can accept the vaccine within the correct priority groups and when we have one or two vaccines left, we make certain to contact these individuals and get them in,” Ebbers said. “We want to make certain that we are diligent and are working in the most effective and efficient manner possible.”
Thus far, Ebbers said those who have been vaccinated have had few side effects — perhaps a little soreness in the arm or some tiredness.
Weg said Sanford Worthington has not received direction from the regional coalition to begin administering vaccine to individuals aged 65 and older, but its systems are in place to notify the population group and schedule their vaccinations.
Meanwhile, the public health department continues to work collaboratively with local entities to get messaging out in a variety of languages, shared Ebbers.
“I just encourage everyone to be patient,” she said. “We want to work on this effectively and efficiently.”
As of Thursday, there were 76 Nobles County residents within their 10-day isolation period after testing positive for COVID-19. Of those, 10 were aged birth to 10; eight were aged 11 to 15; two were aged 16 to 19; seven were aged 20 to 25; 23 were aged 26 to 50; 14 were aged 51 to 64; and 12 were aged 65 and older.