The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered at the Mayo Clinic in Waseca on Tuesday, Dec. 22.
The Waseca clinic received 60 vaccines from Pfizer for its frontline staff. This is the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccinations that hospital staff expect to continue into 2021, said Dr. Gokhan Anil, the regional chair of clinical practice for the Mayo Clinic Health System. The vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart and the vaccine becomes 95% effective about a week after the second dose is administered, he said.
This first phase of Mayo Clinic’s vaccine distribution is only available to frontline workers, specifically intensive care unit staff, emergency room staff and the emergency medical services workers because they are the first line of defense and the most at risk for exposure. It is unclear when the public will have access to the vaccine, but it is coming, he said.
“The vaccine has been welcomed by the healthcare workers, being that the pandemic has affected us significantly,” Anil said. “It’s a welcome use for all of us in caring for patients and it has been very effective in protecting us from the COVID-19.”
All vaccination time slots at the Mayo Clinics that have received the vaccine have been filled according to Anil, which he said “is great.”
Those who have received the vaccine so far in the region have physically reacted positively to it. Anil shared that with any vaccine people will have a mild reaction with the most common being irritation at the injection site or muscle aches. Another side effect is a mild headache or that muscle aches can last 24-48 hours after the injection. According to Anil, 15% of those who receive the vaccine will have mild symptoms, but he said symptoms show that the person’s immune system is reacting. If anyone has a worse reaction to the vaccine, there are healthcare workers on site prepared to react and help the person.
Though all healthcare workers are able to sign up for the vaccine, it is unclear when they will all be able to get it due to limited supplies and the distribution of it.
Anil said there are two companies manufacturing a vaccine at this time, Pfizer and Moderna, but supplies are limited.
The two-shot Pfizer vaccine requires an ultra cold freezer to store the vaccine at minus 94 degrees that the Mankato Mayo Clinic has and is the reason it is the distributor for the region. The Pfizer vaccine is only to be given to those 16 years or older, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The Moderna vaccine is only required to be stored between minus 13 and 5 degrees and was approved by the FDA Dec. 18, according to Anil. Moderna should only be used on individuals 18 years or older and it is also a two-shot vaccine with the second dosage administered 28 days after the first.
With the Moderna vaccine, the nursing homes will be receiving a shipment of vaccines this week or next week due to the easy storage, according to Dr. Anil.
The next group to receive the vaccines, following the hospital and emergency responders, are those in the age group 75 years or older and the next essential workers such as grocery clerks and transportation workers. This group was established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Everyone who can receive the vaccine should receive it eventually, but the timing will depend on the dosages available and the production by the two companies,” Dr. Anil said.
The CDC, Minnesota Public Health Officials and local Public Health agencies have been managing the public vaccination efforts, which also depends on the supply of the vaccines and when each is distributed to the area.
For those who had COVID-19, the recommendation is to wait for 90 days after a positive test before receiving the vaccination.
Though the vaccine is becoming more available, Anil said people still need to wear a mask, social distance and continue to wash their hands frequently.
“Until we have a significant portion of the public vaccinated or exposed to the virus, we still need to protect ourselves,” Anil said. “We want the public to still protect themselves, because this is the only way to get schools to reopen and get life back to normal.”
Waseca County Public Health officials are urging residents to be patient, continue to wear masks and social distance while the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are distributed.
Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry said they’ve been working with the South Central Healthcare Coalition and other partners to ensure the vaccine gets to those who are in the priority populations.
“The fact is that there are limited doses of the vaccine available during these initial shipments and it will take time, perhaps months, before it’s readily available to the general public,” she said in a statement.
The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive in the region next week, according to Berry. Vaccinations of the priority populations, including healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff, are to begin sometime after the new year. Additional allocations of the vaccine are expected on a weekly basis, according to the department.
Eric Weller, regional healthcare preparedness coordinator for the South Central Healthcare Coalition, said they’re confident the vaccine is safe and has been proven to be 95% effective in clinical trials.
“We also know that the arrival of the vaccine does not mean an immediate end to this pandemic. People will still need to wear masks, social distance and seek medical care if they are feeling ill,” Weller said.
Weller and Berry are encouraging people to remain home as much as possible, stay at least 6 feet away from other people in public places, telework if possible and avoid close contact with people who are sick. People who are older than 65 or have certain underlying medical conditions should stay at home and avoid situations where they could be exposed, including travel.