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Light at the End of the Tunnel: Moderna Vaccine safe and effective; available in phases

Kaycee O’Connor and Trish Bassett are a mother-daughter duo that both work at the hospital as RNs. They received their vac- cines together. (Photos Courtesy Star Valley Health)

As the vaccine campaign against COVID-19 rolls across Wyoming –  including Star Valley – the state health department continues to remind residents and health officials to be patient and continue safe community protocols.

They offer a tool box – you might call it – of beneficial advice: the vaccine is safe and effective, it is being made  available in phased approaches to the most vulnerable and the general public, it is most effective in two dosages.

And there is light at the end of the tunnel.

That light was reflected by Dr. Niki Milleson of Star Valley Health after receiving one of the first vaccine injections locally: “I have been waiting for this for months. Please get vaccinated when it is your turn. It will make my job and my colleagues’ jobs much easier and will give us a chance to return to ‘normal.’”

Referring to the photo provided by Star Valley Health to SVI Media of Dr. Milleson receiving her shot, she exclaimed, “I hope you can see my smile!”

And although the “pandemic is not over by any means,” Kim Deti of the Wyoming Department of Health sees optimism at the state level. “We’re so excited because we’ve got something to look forward to now.

“We have a powerful new tool to put an end to the pandemic and that’s something we’re happy to have,” Deti, a spokesperson for the state health department, told SVI Media in a recent telephone interview.

And although Wyoming’s smaller community populations may affect or skew state pandemic statistics, Deti said there is continuing concern for the more vulnerable citizenry. That is why in the Phase 1A approach to vaccinations, nursing home residents, are among frontline healthcare and first responders first in line to receive the vaccination.

Since the World Health Organization first declared COVID-19 a pandemic early last year, Wyoming has seen its share of illness and mourning. From the website of the Wyoming Department of Health as of Jan. 5, 2021, there have been 438 COVID-19 related deaths, with 6,505 probable cases and 38,742 laboratory-conformed total cases. According to the Wyoming News Exchange, Lincoln County had 68 new cases as of January 4, and statewide new cases exceeded recoveries by only 20, referring to relatively stable local numbers.

And do not be afraid or hesitate to be tested, Deti urged. Testing is widely available now, lines are nowhere near what they were at the beginning of testing, “and it’s a high quality test.”

You can even order a test that comes “to your house,” she added, and all tests are free. In addition, “surveillance testing” continues, meaning frontline workers and staff in care facilities.

Star Valley medical workers are right in the mix, said Jodi Hill, director of marketing and communications for Star Valley Health. She agreed it was a “Christmas present” when the first batch of vaccines was received here the week of December 25. As of the first week of 2021, some 115 employees had been vaccinated in the Phase 1A approach as advised by the state health department. In this phase, healthcare workers, first responders and residents of Star Valley Care Center are first in line.

Thus far, two vaccines nationwide have been rolling out from both Pfizer and Moderna. Because the latter is more safely stored without the level of freezing necessary to store Pfizer, Star Valley has received and is administering the Moderna vaccine in two doses, with the second injection recommended 28 days after the first, Hill explained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clinical trials of the two-dosage Moderna showed a 94.1 percent effective rate.

As the phased approach continues, Deti explained, the Priority 1A applications vary according to local needs and supplies. As it moves to Priority 1B, the vaccine will be administered to others in community frontline positions and those over age 75. The Moderna vaccine is not recommended for those under 18.

As the phases continue to the general population in the coming months, communication will be critical between national, state and local healthcare sources and those in communities waiting their turn, Deti related. “We do not have a list to call everybody to say ‘it’s your turn,’ but we will do best with a variety of methods to let you know. There will be communication through media channels and certain groups such as senior centers.

“People are anxious,” Deti acknowledged. “They’re tired of this. They want us to wave a wand and have this, but we’re on a path and it’s going to take awhile.”

While you’re waiting, Deti and Hill emphasized, it’s important to have accurate information. The vaccine is free, there is no charge to anyone under any circumstances. The vaccine does not give anyone COVID-19, and you will not test positive for COVID-19 after being injected.

“The goal of these vaccines is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, Wyoming state health officer in a WDH release last month. “Sometimes this may lead to symptoms or side effects such as a sore arm or mild, short-term fever. Symptoms like this are normal and tell us our body is building immunity.”

And no steps were skipped in the development of this vaccine despite the seeming rapidity of release to the public, said Harrist in the release and Deti in speaking with SVI Media.

There was an “unprecedented focus and investment, but safety remained important,” Harrist explained. Deti added that the technology of today and 100 years ago when the 1918 flu pandemic decimated parts of the world are vastly different along with “unprecedented commitment from the federal government in this vaccine development.”

“There’s nothing wrong with questions,” Deti told SVI. But do your research with proven sources, including the CDC and state and local health departments.

And keep up with changing information and vaccination schedules through your local health department and local media sources. “Details change frequently,” Hill emphasized.

And, most important for now, Hill said, continue safe community health practices until further notice. Stay home if you’re sick, wear your masks when unable to social distance, and keep your distance even within households under certain conditions.

“We’re using the tools we have,” Deti said. “But some tools require people to make personal choices that help us all.”

For more information on vaccinations programs and COVID-19 announcements and changes, please see the following:

1. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.dhtml.

2. health.wyo.gov and select “COVID-19”.

3. starvalleyhealth.org.

4. SVInews.com

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