By Anna Jauhola
About 100 healthcare workers in Kittson County received the Pfizer vaccine last week to protect against COVID-19.
“Pretty much everybody had a good response,” said Cindy Urbaniak, public health director. “There were a few side effects — maybe a headache, sore arm was probably the most common side effect we heard about, a little nausea, chills. So the symptoms COVID typically produces in people. … We had no significant severe reactions to the vaccine.”
Those who received the Pfizer vaccine will receive a second shot when the facility receives another shipment on Monday, Jan. 18. Other healthcare workers who opted to wait and see how the first doses went will also be able to receive the vaccine at that time.
The Karlstad Nursing Home and Meadows Assisted Living have chosen to receive the vaccine through Thrifty White Drug, Urbaniak said. However, public health will offer the vaccine should the facility want it earlier.
Initially, Kittson Healthcare received 85 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. However, Urbaniak said they noticed each vial contained one or two extra doses, which enabled them to provide up to 100 doses.
“We are truly impressed with the facility,” Urbaniak said of Kittson Healthcare. “We had about 50 percent compliance with the staff opting to get the vaccine on the first run.”
Last week, Kittson County Public Health received doses of the Moderna vaccine. This week, public health will begin vaccinating long-term care residents, assisted living tenants and essential caregivers who come into the facility.
“Again, we’re building a little cocoon around those residents and trying to keep them as safe as we possibly can,” Urbaniak said.
Public health is following the Minnesota Department of Health’s phased plan for administering vaccines. They are currently completing Phase 1a, which is to vaccinate healthcare personnel and long-term care residents.
Phase 1b will start once 1a is complete – possibly the end of January – and will cover adults age 75 and older, and frontline essential workers. Urbaniak said Phase 1b will include people who work in public safety, city and county operations such as maintenance and highway departments, city councilors, county commissioners, customs, border patrol, highway patrol and other law enforcement.
Phase 1c will include adults 65 to 74 and people 16 years old to 64 with high-risk medical issues, plus other essential employees in the state.
The general public will be the final grouping to receive the vaccine, according to the department of health.
“As Kittson County and the state of Minnesota continues to move through the priority list for COVID vaccination, Kittson County Public Health will be updating the facility Facebook page and communicating with local newspapers to keep the public informed about vaccine availability,” Urbaniak said.
And, of course, the entire rollout depends on the availability of the vaccine, she added.
Once people receive the vaccine, the department of health still urges them to continue following all the guidelines – frequent handwashing, mask wearing and social distancing.
Daily COVID infection rates have decreased dramatically from 10,000 a day to 2,000 a day in the state. Urbaniak said Kittson Healthcare has not reported a positive case in the last two weeks, as of Monday, Jan. 4. Fewer people are getting tested, but also providers have the discretion to not test patients if they are asymptomatic and depending on exposure.
“So, we’re moving in the right direction, but this is not a time to be complacent and think we’re past this,” she said.
She added that novel viruses, like COVID-19, appear in waves, such as the nation saw in summer 2020 and after Thanksgiving. Healthcare officials are expecting another wave after people have returned from Christmas and New Years holiday travel, but Urbaniak said early December was Kittson County’s biggest spike.
She hopes people will continue to be safe, stay home if they are sick, wash their hands, wear a mask in public spaces, social distance and meet in groups of 10 or fewer.
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“As much as we dislike it, we see the effect of it,” she said.
A positive side effect of these department of health recommendations has been a lessened cold and influenza season. Urbaniak said Kittson Healthcare has not diagnosed any flu cases yet, she is unaware of any flu cases in the county and people are still getting their flu shots. There are a few cases throughout the state, but for the most part the numbers are down dramatically, she said.
“Healthcare workers believe that we should have more protection (from the flu) just by wearing these masks,” she said. “The flu is spread by respiratory droplets, just like COVID. If we’re masking during the flu and cold season, we should have a healthier winter.”
By Anna Jauhola