First COVID-19 vaccines administered in Wyoming, marking "a turning point" in pandemic

By: 
Tom Coulter with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, from the Wyoming News Exchange

Cheyenne/Laramie County Health Department registered nurse Valencia Bautista administers the new COVID-19 vaccine to registered nurse Terry Thayn Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in south Cheyenne. Thayn is the first person in the state to receive the newly approved vaccine. Laramie County received 975 doses of the state’s initial supply of 5,000. Photo by Michael Cummo, Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

 

First COVID-19 vaccines administered in Wyoming, marking "a turning point" in pandemic

 

By Tom Coulter

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

 

CHEYENNE – The first doses of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to be administered in Wyoming were given Tuesday to a handful of medical staff in Laramie County, marking the start of a distribution plan that will likely take months to complete.

The first vaccines were given to a handful of staff members at the Cheyenne- Laramie County Health Department on Tuesday morning. 

Terry Thayn, a registered nurse for the department, was the first to receive the vaccine after learning just the day before that she would be getting it.

“I am a maternal child health nurse, and I’ve been here for a year, so the majority of my time has been spent doing COVID contact tracing and testing and not being able to focus on my real job, what I was hired for, so I’m excited for things to get back to normal,” Thayn said after receiving the vaccine. “As soon as it was available, I was ready to take it.”

Although it could be a few more months before the vaccine is widely available to the public, Thayn encouraged everyone to take it when possible. The vaccine must be given in two doses 21 days apart, and she received a card Tuesday that documents when she got her first dose.

Thayn was among five staff members at the county health department to receive the vaccine, and a few nurses and doctors at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center got vaccinated the same afternoon.

In total, Laramie County received 975 doses of the state’s initial supply of nearly 5,000 doses. 

Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health who was on hand for the vaccinations, said state health officials were excited by the development, though she stressed the vaccine will go to priority populations first.

“While we’re excited and we do think this is a positive step, the amount of available vaccine is going to be small for a while, so we have established priority groups,” Deti said. “Our initial priority groups are primarily healthcare workers and long-term care residents ... It’s kind of hard for us to predict exactly who’s going to be starting to get what (and) when at this point.”

The vaccine given Tuesday came from the drug company Pfizer after its version won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week. With another vaccine from the drugmaker Moderna up for federal approval in a few days, Deti said the state was expecting it to be authorized “at the end of the week.”

“That’s going to really open some things up, but it’s not a guarantee,” Deti said of the Moderna vaccine. “We’ve had estimates of how much we’re going to receive (and) when for both of those vaccines, but again, those are estimates.”

In the coming week, the vaccine will go to more health care workers, as well as emergency first responders, in Laramie County. 

Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, said those priority populations will receive the vaccine at the county health department building, which has the subzero-temperature freezer needed to store the Pfizer vaccine.

“Logistically, it’s much more difficult, much more challenging than some of our other vaccines,” Emmons said. “In the future, I’m hopeful that we will be able to do some more mass clinics, similar to what we do with our testing sites.”

Laramie County will receive an additional shipment of vaccines early next week, with another expected the following week, Emmons said.

“We’re going to just turn that as fast as we can, so that we’re pushing out the vaccines into the community,” she added.

While many details of the distribution plan will depend on a process playing out nationwide, Emmons said the initial vaccinations Tuesday marked “a historic moment” for the Cheyenne community, which reported its first positive cases in mid-March.

“It has been a long nine months,” Emmons said. “We’re just so excited to be at this point, because it’s a turning point for us in the community. Now, we have something to work toward. I think that’s the problem with COVID, in general, is we’ve not had any relief to look forward to, so we don’t know when we’re doing better.”

“This is a point where now we have something to move toward, and kind of a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Later on Tuesday, five medical officials at CRMC, including two nurses, two doctors and a respiratory therapist, received the vaccine, becoming the first hospital workers in the state to get vaccinated.

Among them was Dr. Hoo Feng Choo, an infectious disease specialist for the hospital, who called the moment “a milestone” in the COVID-19 pandemic. Choo, who was confident in the vaccine’s safety, described getting the vaccine as like sending a recipe to the body to combat the virus through messenger RNA.

“It just tells our body, ‘Oh, we need to crank up an immunity against this foreign protein to help fight infection,’” Choo said.

Choo, who will receive his second dose of the vaccine in three weeks, said he will continue to follow all of the protocols in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus moving forward.

“Even though I’m vaccinated today, that does not mean I’m going to let my guard down,” Choo said. “I will still continue with my social distancing and hygiene and wearing of the mask, because the vaccine does not prevent infection – it prevents disease. Asymptomatic transmission can still occur.”

CRMC officials said they plan to administer 300 additional doses of the vaccine to hospital staff this week starting Wednesday.

For those who were vaccinated Tuesday, the sense of relief that followed was not just for themselves, but their families. Judy Jaspers, a repertory therapist at CRMC, noted her husband is at high risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

“I don’t want to bring this home to him,” Jaspers said.

Jaspers encouraged all Wyoming residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, adding it was a “no-brainer” for her. As a respiratory therapist working for months in an intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients, she said it’s been “heartbreaking” for her to see patients go for weeks without seeing their families.

With one vaccine already in Wyoming and another potentially on the way soon, her hope was that the latest developments would soon bring some normalcy to the hospital and to herself.

“I want my life back,” Jaspers said. “I want to do the things I had been doing a year ago.”

 

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