Working the COVID vaccination drive-up station on Dec. 17 are, from left, Jefferson Healthcare staffers Jaimie Hoobler, Brandy Boyd, Jess Cigalotti and Lori Banks. Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Working the COVID vaccination drive-up station on Dec. 17 are, from left, Jefferson Healthcare staffers Jaimie Hoobler, Brandy Boyd, Jess Cigalotti and Lori Banks. Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Olympic Peninsula News Group

‘Jumpstart phase’ of COVID-19 inoculation begins on peninsula

The mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign has begun on the North Olympic Peninsula.

By early Thursday afternoon, about 90 people had received the Pfizer vaccine — given emergency approval by the FDA last Friday — at Jefferson Healthcare’s drive-up site, coordinator Lori Banks said as she awaited the next car.

With those inoculations plus 35 done Wednesday, Jefferson Healthcare hospital entered Phase 1A, aka the “jumpstart phase,” of the national effort to immunize millions of frontline health care workers and first responders.

The hospital received a shipment of 975 doses at the beginning of this week and hopes to administer them all by Dec. 24, spokesperson Amy Yaley said.

Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles plans to inoculate some staffers today and start a clinic next week.

Early in the morning Thursday, a woman paid a visit to Port Townsend’s drive-up site, in the parking lot behind the Sheridan Clinic at 10th and Sheridan streets. She came not to get a shot, but to drop off a sign.

“Thank you!” it read, and the woman said it, too.

The 1A recipients — nurses, doctors, phlebotomists and others at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus — pulled in with a variety of emotions, said Banks: grateful, nervous, a little choked up.

“A lot of selfies,” nurse Jess Cigalotti added with a smile.

Seriously, Banks said: “It’s rewarding to be able to do this.”

No adverse reactions to the vaccine have been reported, Yaley said Thursday afternoon, adding she has received a variety of responses to the mass email Jefferson Healthcare sent this week.

“Vaccinating as many community members in as timely a manner as possible is our absolute priority, and we are committed to ensuring equitable distribution,” reads the letter signed by Jefferson Healthcare doctors Joe Mattern, Steven Butterfield and Tracie Harris and by Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke.

Harris, an internist and hospitalist who works with COVID patients, was the first on the North Olympic Peninsula to receive the vaccine; she was followed by Jefferson Healthcare nurse and night supervisor Tom Heuberger.

And Yaley is receiving plentiful email — from people wondering when they can be immunized and from those opposed to the vaccine.

One thing she’s learned during the pandemic, she said, is that people’s risk tolerance varies — a lot.

And while many people see the vaccine as a bright light of hope, making it available to the community and beyond “will be a gradual process,” the doctors’ letter notes.

Multiple phases will unfold, with essential workers, long-term care facilities, teachers, childcare providers, homeless shelters, group homes, prisons and jails in the long and winding queue.

“The guidelines are being established as we go,” Yaley said.

She’s certain about one thing: There will not be a cost for the vaccine.

“No barriers,” she said, adding Jefferson Healthcare continues to develop its public information platforms.

Updates about who can be vaccinated when will be posted at jeffersonhealthcare.org; emails, sent to everyone who has visited a Jefferson Healthcare clinic or site in the past two years, will also deliver details, as will newspaper articles and advertisements.

“It’s not going to be subtle,” Yaley said.

The hospital itself has met this moment in history by turning its conference room into an incident command center, reassigning medical workers, banning most visitors and uploading abundant information onto its website’s COVID pages.

Masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and household-only gatherings are as critical as ever, hospital officials emphasize.

With the advent of the delicate vaccine, a complex system for safe storage and waste prevention had to be created, said Jake Davidson, executive director of the hospital’s medical group.

“There is such a uniqueness to this immunization,” he said: “After it comes out of the freezer, we have five days to reconstitute it. Once we reconstitute it, we have six hours. Anything we’re mixing right now has to be used up.

“It’s exciting,” Davidson said, “and nerve-wracking.”

Locke, noting a vaccination effort of this scale has never been attempted before, saluted Jefferson Healthcare’s team.

“This has been a challenging undertaking,” he said. “They took care of it and ran with it.”

Allotment of Pfizer doses cut

While North Olympic Peninsula hospitals are beginning vaccinations against COVID-19 using Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s vaccine approval is expected this weekend, and the allotment for the Pfizer vaccine has been cut.

On Thursday, Clallam County confirmed eight new cases of COVID-19, while Jefferson County confirmed two new cases.

The new cases in Clallam County are tied to household and workplace exposures, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

The new cases in Jefferson County contracted the novel coronavirus through out-of-county exposure, Locke said.

The 17 cases that were added in Clallam County on Wednesday included tests from previous days as the lab had fallen behind, but the issue has been corrected now, Unthank said.

Clallam and Jefferson counties each received one unit — 975 doses — of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this week, with the first administered Wednesday in Jefferson and the first expected to start today in Clallam.

The first doses are being given to frontline health care workers.

The general public is not expected to receive vaccinations until spring.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced via Twitter on Thursday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reduced Washington state’s allotment of vaccine for next week by 40 percent.

“(The CDC) has informed us that (Washington)’s vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week — and that all states are seeing similar cuts,” Inslee’s post said.

“This is disruptive and frustrating. We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success.

“No explanation was given. Our state remains committed to getting all doses we are allocated out to healthcare providers and into the arms of Washingtonians. While we push for answers, that commitment will not change.”

Locke said while the announcement is surprising, local personnel have been preparing for problems like this to arise. It doesn’t take much to disrupt production of the vaccine, causing delays, as the Pfizer has high production expectations, he said.

“We’re kind of expecting a lot of uncertainty with vaccine supply,” Locke said. “That’s going to go up and down. A lot of the projections are based on the manufacturers meeting their production targets, which are very ambitious.

“Any glitches in that could potentially cause problems.”

The next shipment of vaccine for the Peninsula is expected in two to three weeks, so that those vaccinated with the initial dose can receive the second dose.

It was unknown as of Thursday how the second shipment will be affected, Locke said.

As of Wednesday, 62,400 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have been delivered to Washington state, and it is expected that half of the initial vaccine that was produced was saved by Pfizer to be delivered after two to three weeks for those vaccinated first to receive their second dose, according to the state Department of Health.

Moderna approved

Concurrently, the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee of experts approved a recommendation that the FDA approve Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. Official approval for use is expected, possibly as soon as this evening.

Unthank is excited to eventually receive the Moderna vaccine. It is similar to Pfizer’s in that it is also a messenger-RNA vaccine that requires two doses — albeit four weeks apart for Moderna’s — but it has much less stringent storage needs.

Instead of the minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit that the Pfizer vaccine requires, the Moderna vaccine needs only to be stored at regular refrigerator temperatures between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re really excited about that vaccine because it really will increase availability of vaccinations, especially on our remote West End,” where a deep-freeze is not available, Unthank said.

One place Unthank wants to vaccinate as soon as possible is the Clallam Bay Corrections Facility, but she said that’s not possible with the Pfizer vaccine due to shipping challenges and storage needs.

The Moderna vaccine also will be a better option for tribal medical facilities, Unthank said.

The test positivity on the Peninsula — the percentage of tests returned positive — also lowered in both counties to 4.4 percent in Clallam County for Nov. 30 through Dec. 14, and 1.72 percent in Jefferson County for Dec. 7 through Dec. 13.

So far this month, Jefferson County has confirmed 30 cases of COVID-19, 15 percent of the 200 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Clallam County has confirmed 139 cases this month, about 21.2 percent of the 655 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

There are currently 59 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County, and nine active cases in Jefferson County.

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