MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a historic day in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. Nine months after a global pandemic was declared, the first batch of the vaccines has arrived in Minnesota.
A Gov. Tim Walz representative confirmed the first batch of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Minnesota Monday morning. The Minneapolis VA hospital was the first health facility in the state to receive doses.
The Minneapolis VA hospital will be the first to administer the vaccine in the state on Tuesday. A press conference will be held following the vaccination at 8:30 a.m. at the facility.
Calling it “hugely exciting,” Walz said just short of 3,000 vials of the dose were delivered to the hospital. The governor took a tour of the facility’s cold storage as vaccines arrived.
“There’s backup generators to backup generators to make sure if we lost power for whatever reason, those vaccines are safe,” Walz said.
According to Walz, vaccinations are expected to begin in the state “probably” within 24 to 48 hours once protocols are firmly in place.
According to the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, it was selected for its ability to vaccinate “large numbers of people” and because it can store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures. It’s among 37 VA sites across the country that have been selected to receive initial doses of the vaccine.
“We are very excited to provide a vaccine that has the potential to help get COVID-19 under control when used alongside public health measures such as masking, physical distancing and frequent handwashing,” Minneapolis VA Director Patrick Kelly said last week.
Last week, Walz said the vaccines will be shipped directly to key hospitals or hubs across the state, and will be distributed further to clinics. The vaccines will be focused on “protecting life and health of those most susceptible to serious complications and those who care for them.”
More vaccine shipments are expected throughout the week and beyond, according to health officials. Last week, health officials predicted 180,000 doses would be in Minnesota by the end of the year.
It’s the beginning of the vaccine rollout in the state and the country. Earlier Monday, the first COVID-19 vaccinations to be given in the U.S. occurred in New York. Frontline health care workers in New York City were among the first to receive doses.
Pfizer’s vaccine was given emergency approval in the U.S. late last week. Moderna’s version of the vaccination has yet to be given emergency approval.
Health officials say that both versions of the vaccine will require two doses, roughly a month apart.
Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) say the state will receive more than 46,000 units of the vaccine this week. That includes a shipment that arrived at Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester.
North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale expects to receive its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning, according to Paul Krogh, the hospital’s assistant director of pharmacy services. The delivery will be 975 doses, which Krogh says will be enough for 975 people.
Starting next Monday, the first batch will go to hospital employees with direct patient contact, then to staff on the units who aren’t necessarily interacting with patients.
During the next two weeks, the hospital’s expecting to receive about 5,000 doses total, which will allow for the vaccinated employees to receive their second doses 21 days after the first.
“The data [Pfizer] submitted, and we’ve seen a full release as of last week that went to the FDA, is good,” Krogh said. “Efficacy is 95%. There’s side effects, not probably more than the flu from what we can see from that, but not out of line with other vaccinations.”
The doses will be in one box that hospital officials say looks like a pizza box. Pfizer is shipping the vaccine in coolers with dry ice and GPS trackers that monitor the temperature. Once at North Memorial, the doses will be kept in an ultra-cold storage freezer at minus-98.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We’ll open it right next to the freezer and we’ll put it in. There won’t be any taking it out and taking a photo of the vial, none of that,” Krogh said. “We’re getting it in, we’re going to follow those instructions and make sure that we don’t compromise it in that process.”
Beginning next Monday, pharmacies will also play a major role in administering the vaccine. CVS is hiring thousands of pharmacists, nurses and technicians to help. Walgreens will provide shots to about 35,000 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.
MDH Infectious Diseases expert Kris Ehresmann says the average Minnesotan will have to wait several months before they can get vaccinated.
COVID case numbers remain high in the state, but health experts say there are a lot of positive things to look forward to. Even so, they want Minnesotans to continue to mask up and practice social distancing.
“There are good things on the horizon and we just have to stay focused on the goal, and be patient until we can get there,” Ehresmann said.
MDH says their primary goal is to deliver the vaccine safely, which is why they are behind states that have already given the vaccine to some frontline workers.