FARGO — Critics of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. have said it isn’t being administered quickly enough to stem the continuing surges of the virus.
However, public health experts in Fargo-Moorhead said they’re pleased with the progress being made in this region.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker as of Tuesday, Jan. 5, more than 15.4 million doses had been distributed nationwide.
Only 4.6 million of those had been administered, far fewer than the federal government’s goal of having 20 million people vaccinated before the end of 2020.
Some have blamed a shortage of staff able to deliver the vaccines, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue in Fargo-Moorhead or in their respective Cass or Clay counties.
Suzanne Schaefer, director of nursing at Fargo Cass Public Health, said they haven’t had to carry over any vaccine from week to week.
“When we get it, we have been administering it. We have zero in our fridge,” Schaefer said.
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As of Monday, Fargo Cass Public Health had vaccinated 728 people, including emergency medical services personnel, firefighters, law enforcement and residents of group homes.
“We know that it's best for us to get it in arms right away if we want to get that protection started,” she said.
On a statewide level, North Dakota has been able to push out the vaccine at a brisk rate as well.
As of Monday, 64% of the vaccine doses received had been administered, according to Molly Howell, immunization program director at the state Department of Health.
Of 35,250 doses distributed, some 22,685 had been put in the arms of people at highest priority for the vaccine in North Dakota.
South Dakota’s percentage of administered doses has been similar, while Minnesota has been a bit slower to get the vaccine out, thus far.
The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday that 297,350 doses of coronavirus vaccine have been allocated and distributed to providers.
Of those, 78,402 doses or about 26% had been administered; however, the department noted on its website that it can take up to 48 hours for data to be fully processed and included.
Howell said it could be that other states have more doses tied up in long-term care centers, many of which are pairing with the Federal Pharmacy Partnership program to administer the vaccine.
North Dakota doesn’t have as many of the pharmacies involved, which include Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy, she said.
Liz Bjur, Clay County Public Health nurse, confirmed that most long term care facilities in Minnesota have signed onto that federal program.
Eventide on Eighth in Moorhead received its vaccine allocation early, in late December, because it had the capacity to vaccinate its own residents and staff.
Other skilled nursing facilities in Clay County, including Moorhead Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Moorhead, Viking Manor in Ulen and Valley Care and Rehab in Barnesville are receiving vaccine doses this week under the federal pharmacy partnership.
“Anytime that you're going to roll out a very new vaccine to a large amount of people, it’s going to take time for things to fall into place,” Bjur said.
Under the partnership, the pharmacy is responsible for receiving, storing and administering the vaccine, along with sending the data to the immunization registry for the state, she said.
Vaccinations also begin this week at a centralized location in Clay County for about 250 emergency medical staff who are not connected to a health care system in Clay and neighboring Becker, Otter Tail and Wilkin counties.
About 40 staff working at the COVID saliva testing site in Moorhead and about 40 COVID community vaccinators, including public health nurses, will also receive the shots in Clay County, Bjur said.
At Fargo Cass Public Health, Schaefer expects to get 500 more doses this week, which will be used for the remainder of the priority groups they weren’t able to wrap up last week.
Howell said this phase of North Dakota’s vaccination program involving front-line health care workers and nursing homes is actually the simplest.
Prioritizing other groups later according to occupational risk, age and underlying health conditions will be much harder.
“I do think in other phases, it will get more complicated,” Howell said.