With authorization by national medical experts of the first vaccine intended to help prevent COVID-19 infections in the United States, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is kicking off its efforts to distribute the vaccines across the state.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, described the vaccine’s authorization by federal Food and Drug Administration as “exciting” and noted other vaccines are also on track for authorization.
“Knowing we have safe and effective vaccines arriving is like seeing light at the end of a tunnel,” she said. “We have an end in sight at this point, which was not true for many months during this pandemic. We have hope and a reminder that this situation is for now and not forever.”
“The number of vaccine doses available at first will be quite limited so setting priorities to ensure the early doses reach those who need it most is part of the plan we’ve developed together with our county and healthcare provider partners,” Harrist said.
The first vaccine shipments have been ordered and are expected to arrive in Wyoming the week of December 14 with an initial 4,875 doses divided into five packages of 975 doses each. These packages will be delivered to public health departments in Casper and Cheyenne as well as hospitals in Cody, Jackson and Gillette. As shipments continue and vaccines from other companies are authorized, the amount of available doses dedicated to use within Wyoming will continue to grow.
Healthcare workers involved in direct patient care and vulnerable residents of Wyoming’s long-term care facilities are among the first groups targeted to receive the new vaccine. Two doses received three to four weeks apart will provide the highest level of protection.
The next step, which is necessary before COVID-19 vaccines can be given to any Wyoming residents, is approval from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is expected to review the vaccine very soon. The committee advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on immunizations.
WDH is ordering COVID-19 vaccines through a federal process with shipments going directly to key hospital partners and local health departments that can efficiently store and share vaccine doses among other counties. Separate amounts are also expected to be provided directly from the federal government to tribal health clinics, military bases and to U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities.
A special, targeted effort involving pharmacy chains to help vaccinate residents of Wyoming’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities is planned in the coming weeks.
“Our planning is intended to ensure we make the most of any and all vaccine doses we receive as this is an important resource for our state and communities,” said Stephanie Pyle, Public Health Division senior administrator with WDH.
Harrist said it remains important to continue following the department’s key prevention strategies of staying home when ill except to seek medical care, maintaining physical distancing with people from other households as much as possible and wearing cloth face masks as recommended. “Supplies will continue to arrive over the coming months, but most Wyoming residents will be asked to be patient and stay on track a little longer,” she said.
Getting vaccinated will be free; people receiving the vaccines will not be asked to pay any fees. Healthcare professionals offering the vaccine will later be able to bill insurers for administration costs and to seek federally funded reimbursement for vaccination of uninsured individuals.
“Enrolling providers, distributing vaccines and tracking vaccine doses are not new activities for us,” Pyle said. “Together with our partners, we do this every day. We have a great network of partners and robust data systems. In short, we’re ready to go.”