Just as the sun was coming up in Rochester Monday morning, Olmsted Medical Center received its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, a treatment meant to bring the global coronavirus pandemic to a halt.
“It appeared just after 7 a.m. this morning,” said Dr. Randy Hemann, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “We were expecting a little later in the morning, but we’re glad that it was early, rather than late or not coming at all. It’s great.”
The shipment of the hospital’s 975 doses marks the beginning of a new chapter in the state’s fight against the pandemic. Late last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to a Pfizer vaccine months in the making, and is expected to do the same later this week for a similar vaccine created by Moderna.
Olmsted Medical is one of 25 designated vaccine distribution sites around the state. Also on Monday, 3,000 doses arrived at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. North Memorial Health Hospital in the Twin Cities and Sanford Bemidji Medical Center are also receiving supplies.
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Gov. Tim Walz has said Minnesota expects to receive about 183,000 doses of vaccine this month — not nearly enough to vaccinate everyone in the state. In the coming weeks, the state will begin by first vaccinating health care workers directly involved in caring for COVID-19 patients, and people living in skilled nursing facilities.
From there, the list will expand to more people involved in the health care system; people living in congregate care settings; teachers, police and firefighters. Eventually, people over 65 years old or who are at high risk of dying from the virus will be in line to get shots.
It may be months before younger, healthy Minnesotans are vaccinated.
Hemann said that the doses that arrived at Olmsted Medical Center Monday were immediately put into an ultra-cold freezer, because the Pfizer vaccine requires storage at up to -80 degrees Celsius, an unusual storage temperature for most vaccines.
Starting as early as next week, these initial doses will be administered to about 460 front-line staff at the hospital, including emergency room and intensive care unit workers; people working in the hospital’s birth ward; and others involved in the direct care of COVID-19 patients. In a few weeks, those same staff members will get their second dose of the vaccine.
Olmsted Medical is among the 25 sites around Minnesota registered with the federal government that can store vaccine doses safely for a longer period of time. An additional 118 sites will get their doses from these primary sites, including St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Wabasha, Minn., which doesn't have adequate cold storage facilities to keep its doses stable. Hemann said most of Olmsted Medical’s remaining doses will go there.
Before next week, Hemann said his staff is working through the logistics of making sure the rollout goes smoothly, including educating staff about the vaccine.
"We need this week to get our vaccination site set up, he said. “We need to have a place where people can be observed for 50 minutes after their shot for any adverse reactions."
Hemann said he expects additional shipments of vaccine every week, and that most, if not all, staff will be vaccinated by January.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.