NIOBRARA COUNTY – Healthcare personnel in Niobrara County received the first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Niobrara Community Hospital’s conference room on Dec. 30.
Public Health Nurse Manager Melanie Pearce, DNP, and her staff administered 30 doses of the vaccine the first day. Niobrara County was allocated 100 doses for December, Pearce said. Niobrara County is in Phase 1a of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which includes health care personnel in hospitals and clinics, law enforcement, school nurses, EMS personnel and more. The full list of Phase 1a recipients is available at https://health.wyo.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/WDH_Phase-1a-and-1b-COVID-19-Vaccination-Priorities_12.30.20.pdf.
Niobrara County is in a unique situation with its small population, however, that could mean members of the general population receive COVID-19 vaccinations sooner than planned. Each vial has 10 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and once punctured, they must be administered in under six hours or they will be unusable, Pearce said.
“We are having to really calculate, how many have we given, how many do we have left,” she said. “We are allowed to use any additional doses for individuals that have asked to receive it, so we have a list of people that might not be in that phase 1a, but because we don’t want to waste it, we’re allowed to call those people to come and give it to them.”
When there are enough Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for distribution to the general public, Pearce said she expects they will hold drive thru clinics. She received her first dose of the COVD-19 vaccine on Dec. 30 and will receive her second dose 28 days afterward.
“I feel like, because of the vaccine, 2021 is going to provide a reprieve to all of the stress and work that Public Health has put into the COVID-19 response, and I am so looking forward to that,” Pearce said.
Niobrara County avoided any large outbreaks throughout the pandemic, but the virus has still presented a “significant challenge” to Niobrara Community Hospital, especially in October when case counts started rising, according to its CEO Nick Ducette. He said the critical access hospital easily expanded its limited capacity to accommodate patients amid the pandemic, but transferring critical patients to facilities overwhelmed by cases, including Wyoming Medical Center in Casper and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, has been challenging.
“They were basically full in their (Intensive Care Units),” Ducette said. “It was a bit of a worry, if we had a critical case, were we going to have to send them to Colorado? Were they even going to accept an out of state transfer? What the vaccine does for us is decrease the volume of cases that some of those bigger organizations will see, that way if we do have someone that is critical, they’ll be able to get taken care of.”
Ducette received the COVID-19 vaccine himself on Wednesday morning. The inoculation felt like any other, he said, but the COVID-19 vaccines carry additional weight: ending the pandemic and emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration speeding up manufacturing of the vaccines.
Still, Ducette sees them as “a need.”
“(Manufacturers) have done a very good job in the eight to nine months they’ve had to really develop this thing and push it out,” Ducette said. “Even with the vaccine, and even with our decrease in cases, it’s still important to be cognizant of the fact that it’s still going to be around and we still need to be taking reasonable precautions.”
There is one active COVID-19 case in the county as of press time Tuesday, Pearce said.