Virus vaccines arrive on Peninsula

Counties to start shots this week

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday. The first vaccinations are expected to start this afternoon in Jefferson County.

Jefferson Healthcare hospital and Olympic Medical Center each received one unit — 975 doses — of the COVID-19 vaccine and are preparing to vaccinate frontline health-care workers on the Peninsula.

Olympic Medical Center tentatively is set to begin vaccinations on Friday, said Bobby Beeman, OMC spokesperson.

“This is one the most complicated vaccination rollouts we’ve done, not only because it’s a vaccine that requires a lot of special handling, but also this is an unprecedented and historic kind of process,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

“We’ve never really attempted anything like this in the United States before, and Jefferson County and Clallam County are among the first to be doing it in the nation, but we’re up to the challenge,” he added.

“It’s been a lot of work just to get to this point, and it’s just getting started.”

The Peninsula counties being among the first in the nation is coincidental. Each state has a different distribution method.

Also on Tuesday, Jefferson County confirmed three new COVID-19 cases, while Clallam County added five new cases, county health officers said.

One of the cases in Jefferson was already in quarantine due to exposure to a confirmed case. The other two were still under investigation Tuesday, Locke said.

Of the new cases in Clallam, one is another inmate at the Clallam County jail, increasing that outbreak to seven inmates. The other four cases were still under investigation, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

In Phase 1a of the vaccination distribution plan, frontline health care workers such as doctors, nurses and phlebotomists are among the highest-priority people to be vaccinated since they are some of the most at-risk of infection due to providing medical care to COVID-19 patients.

Getting to this point has already needed a lot of logistical planning for hospitals and public health departments, Locke said.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work just to get to this point. We’ve been meeting almost daily for the last two weeks to just prepare for this.”

Locke expects the vaccination process to consume much of the public health departments’ time over the next six months.

The Pfizer vaccine can remain stable in the ultra-cold freezers at OMC and Jefferson Healthcare for up to six months, but they must be thawed overnight in a refrigerator, which then reduces the vaccine’s shelf-life to five days. When it is time to give the shot, each vial of five doses is reconstituted with sterile saline solution and must be used within six hours, Locke said.

Said Unthank: “It’s incredibly hopeful. “We are incredibly excited to move to this next phase in our response. There is still quite a bit of work to be done.

“It will take a lot of logistics work to get this vaccine properly dispersed and administered and, of course, just because of the sheer volume of people … who need to be vaccinated, it will take time to get enough folks vaccinated, but it’s a really hopeful step, and we’re very excited to have gotten to this point.”

So far this month, Jefferson County has confirmed 28 cases of COVID-19, about 14.1 percent of the 198 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Clallam County has confirmed 114 cases this month, about 18.1 percent of the 630 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

There are currently 61 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County, and 13 active cases in Jefferson County, public health data said.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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