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Vaccine will reach North Idaho this week

Staff Writer | December 15, 2020 1:09 AM

For those betting the longshot that 2020 would end with some actual and meaningful good news, it looks like that wager might actually pay off.

In what President Donald Trump described as America’s “medical miracle,” the first batch of a vaccine to fend off the dreaded COVID-19 virus is en route to health care facilities across the country, including in Coeur d’Alene.

“Many of us are excited about getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Karen Cabell, chief physician executive at Kootenai Health. “The safety and efficacy data is encouraging from the studies. The level of protection is almost immediate, reducing the risk of contracting COVID by 95 percent within seven to nine days after the first dose.”

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization late Friday evening after reviewing the vaccine data from drugmaker Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech. Less than 36 hours later, trucks began to roll out of Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Mich., manufacturing plant with pallets of vaccine doses, 1,370 of which are ultimately due for Kootenai Health. Panhandle Health District said those 1,370 are part of the roughly 2,000 doses North Idaho will see in the initial shipment.

Idaho’s first doses — which total 13,650 statewide — will first go to frontline health care workers serving COVID patients, as dictated by the state’s vaccine advisory committee. Frontline staff and residents and staff of long-term care centers, the facilities impacted the hardest by the disease that has killed more than 1.6 million people worldwide, are also part of that initial population able to get vaccinated.

Andrea Nagel, Kootenai Health spokeswoman, acknowledged the initial 1,370 doses will not cover the 3,000-plus employees at the community hospital, but that the hospital’s goal is for all front line workers to be vaccinated by the end of the year, thanks to a second batch of doses expected to be shipped out in the closing weeks of 2020. It’s a timeline Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s public health officer and Division of Public Health administrator, said should come to fruition without a hitch.

“We are thrilled to finally have vaccine in hand to get vaccinations started,” Tulloch said in a statement.

After that initial group, distribution will then go to certain medical professionals, followed by certain essential workers, including first responders, pre-K-12 school staff and day care workers, correctional and detention facility staff, food processing workers, grocery store employees, members of the Idaho National Guard, and then essential workers unable to telecommute.

No definitive timeline has been given for that next round of essential workers, or for the rest of the public, as production can’t be determined until the FDA decides whether to authorize the Moderna vaccine, which would accelerate production numbers.

The Pfizer vaccine — not unlike the Moderna vaccine, which is still awaiting its own emergency use authorization — is a two-dose treatment, with Pfizer’s second dose prescribed to come three weeks after the initial injection. Pfizer and BioNTech have estimated they will have produced roughly 50 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this year, with projections of 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

“I think there will be a general sense of relief as we move through this process," Cabell said.