Second shipment of Pfizer’s vaccine arrives on Peninsula

Moderna version, approved by FDA, expected this week

North Olympic Peninsula hospitals received a second shipment of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday while health officials continue to vaccinate community members who fall within Phase 1A.

Phase 1A includes frontline health care workers, frontline first responders and long-term care facility residents and staff.

County health officers do not expect to complete those vaccinations until early January.

Also on Monday, Clallam County confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, while Jefferson County held with no new cases, health officers said.

One of the new cases in Clallam is another staff member at the long-term care facility that is currently under an outbreak investigation by Clallam County Public Health, raising the outbreak’s total to 10 with four staff members infected with the novel coronavirus and six residents, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

There is still enough staff to work the facility, and it has been provided additional personal protective equipment (PPE) by the department of emergency management, said Unthank, who has declined to identify the facility.

“They’re doing OK,” she said Tuesday. “The challenge that can happen in these kinds of outbreaks is — especially if the index case is very minimally symptomatic — it can really spread before people realize that the virus is transmitted, and I think that is what we’re seeing here.”

“They’re doing well,” Unthank said. “They’re following the guidance. It’s just that these things can spread quite a bit in the early days.”

Vaccinations

Both counties are currently working with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The first shipment of Moderna’s vaccine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, could arrive as soon as today, Unthank said.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 are free for recipients, due to the federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed” that paid for vaccine doses. An administration fee may be charged to insurance companies, but it should not have to be paid by the recipient, Unthank said.

Moderna’s vaccine is similar to Pfizer’s as it is also a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine and requires two doses. The difference is that the lipids — or “fat bubble” — that Moderna’s vaccine has surrounding the mRNA is less fragile than Pfizer’s, allowing it to be stored at normal vaccine refrigeration temperatures, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

That makes it easier to be administered by smaller and more rural clinics, such as tribal clinics or those in south Jefferson County.

Specific plans for the Moderna vaccine have not been made yet, officials said Tuesday.

The three Peninsula hospitals — Jefferson Healthcare, Olympic Medical Center and Forks Community Hospital — are overseeing vaccinations of medical staff with the Pfizer vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine ships in units of 195 vials, which officially covers 975 doses — five doses each — but health officials on the Peninsula have noticed that, like other vaccines, Pfizer included slightly more in each vial in case of waste. Due to the precise use of health care workers, the vials contain closer to six doses each, allowing them to stretch the 975 doses to nearly 1,100, said Locke and Unthank.

“We’re being very careful with that, because we don’t want to give anyone less than the recommended amount … but it’s not uncommon for vaccines to have a little bit more than the required amount,” Locke said.

“It’s there as a protection in a multi-dose vial in case someone draws up too large of a dose, then there’s some extra to compensate for that.

“The [hospital staff] are very precisely measuring the doses, so if you draw the exact amount of .3cc, you end up getting six doses out of a vial, and since the vaccine is so scarce right now, we’re taking advantage of that to get extra doses.”

Both vaccines require two doses, with Pfizer’s taken about three weeks apart and Moderna’s four weeks apart. When a person receives the first shot, a card is given to them specifying which vaccine they received and the date the second shot should be given, Unthank said.

The vaccines are not interchangeable. Those who get the first shot of Pfizer’s vaccine must have the second form the same company.

The same holds true for the Moderna vaccine.

The test positivity on the Peninsula — the percentage of tests returned positive — is 4.3 percent in Clallam County for Dec. 5-19, and 1.13 percent in Jefferson County for Dec. 14-20.

So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 178 cases, about 25.6 percent of the 694 the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 37 cases of COVID-19, about 17.9 percent of the 207 the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

There are currently 74 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County and eight active cases in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 59.56 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Monday.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 133 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Tuesday.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].

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