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'Light at the end of this pandemic'

| December 19, 2020 1:08 AM

At 6 a.m. Friday morning, Kootenai Health’s first five employees lined up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. The group included two pulmonologists/critical care physicians, a hospitalist, a respiratory therapist, and a critical care nurse.

Nearly 200 Kootenai Health employees received the vaccine, with an estimated total of close to 350 before the weekend is over.

“I am very excited to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Todd Hoopman, M.D., pulmonologist and critical care physician. “It is a different type of excitement because it is tempered by the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Kootenai Health received around 1,370 vaccines in this first shipment, and expects Panhandle Health District will receive more in the last two weeks of 2020. The goal is to administer the first dose to all frontline staff who would like it by the end of the year.

“I am here today as one of the first recipients to show my colleagues, my co-workers and my community that I believe in this vaccine and the importance of being vaccinated in order to see the day when the COVID-19 pandemic has ended,” Hoopman said in a press release.

Kootenai Health reported it had 75 coronavirus patients, with 29 in critical care.

PHD continues to coordinate the vaccine distribution throughout North Idaho.

It reported 329 new cases on Friday, bringing its total to 14,186. Of those, there have been 147 deaths attributed to the virus, with 132 of those deaths people age 70 or older. There have been no deaths in the PHD of anyone under the age of 50.

The first vaccine shipments sent to PHD’s region included 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which are being divided between health care entities that have enrolled as COVID-19 vaccine providers who are taking care of positive COVID-19 patients, according to a press release.

“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for and it’s important to take a minute to celebrate this momentous accomplishment for our country and our region,” said Lora Whalen, PHD district director. “There is light at the end of this pandemic."

She said PHD expects that the vaccine will be widely available to the general public by spring, "so it’s important to continue to practice the preventative measures we have available to us; wear a mask in public, keep your distance from others, wash your hands frequently, and stay home if you are sick.”

Though shipments of the Moderna vaccine are anticipated soon, PHD’s jurisdiction will continue receiving regular shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The vaccine is in limited supply now, so the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee has recommended priority groups that should receive the vaccine first. In the first shipment, the Panhandle area will be following the CVAC guidance and vaccinating frontline health care workers and home health care workers that are caring for COVID-19 patients.

Hoopman said he was in awe of the science behind the vaccine and asked for trust in the process and in him.

"COVID-19 has created too much suffering for our community and those around the United States and the world," he said. "Our COVID-19 ending begins today.”