SIOUX CENTER—Sioux Center Health is slated to receive initial shipments of COVID-19 vaccines for front-line workers in time for Christmas.
The health ministry received notification that it will receive about 400 doses of the vaccine developed by biotechnology company Moderna, pending FDA approval for emergency use authorization, the week of Dec. 20-26.
Front-line workers such as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and emergency room staff are part of the first tier designated by the state to be eligible for the vaccine. Sioux Center Health is working with Promise Community Health Center in Sioux Center to determine which local health care employees will receive the injection as the first batch will not cover the total employees between the two health organizations.
“It really is the light that we finally get to see,” said Sioux Center Health CEO Cory Nelson, “We’ve been living in this pandemic since March and making all of our decisions in our professional and personal lives around the implications of the pandemic. To finally have something available that can lead us out of it and make sure people stay safe and healthy and return to a normal lifestyle sometime in 2021 is very exciting for us.”
Nelson anticipates about half the doses to be administered to Sioux Center Health and Promise employees the week of Christmas and the other half administered the last week of December.
On Friday, Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first emergency use authorization for a version of the vaccine jointly developed by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company BioNTech for people ages 16 and older.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be the version brought to long-term care facilities in Iowa, the vaccination of which will be handled through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. Nelson explained that staff from Walgreens pharmacies will set up times for each long-term care facility, such as Royal Meadows in Sioux Center, administer the vaccines to residents and staff.
That’s expected to happen the week of Dec. 28-Jan. 1. However, anyone who is COVID-19 positive is not eligible for the vaccine.
As of Monday, 14 residents and five staff had positive COVID-19 cases.
“We’ve seen a decent up-tick in positive cases for residents in the last few weeks at Royale Meadows,” Nelson said. “We knew it would happen eventually. I believe our staff did a really great job doing everything they can to help manage and keep that up-tick at bay for as along as we did.”
Nelson said infusions of bamlanivimab, an emergency antibody treatment, on residents who want it. The investigational medicine used for the treatment of COVID-19 potentially helps limit the amount of the virus in an individual’s system to help their symptoms improve sooner and limit or avoid hospitalization.
Sioux Center Health has also reassigned one of its nurse practitioners and a supporting nurse to Royale Meadows only to help manage care of those individuals.
The hospital is taking the “shelter in place approach” with Royale Meadows residents, meaning they are asked to stay in their rooms.
“We don’t have all COVID positive patients in one wing, for example, because if you keep moving people around, it’s very disruptive to their lives, especially when individuals have memory issues,” Nelson said. “A move can create more of a challenge if they’re positive if they’re not in a familiar environment.”
Dr. Scott Rens, a family medicine physician and Sioux Center Health’s chief medical officer said vaccines are the optimal way to control the pandemic.
“The vaccine has been well tolerated in clinical trials,” he said. “Local and mild systemic reactions may happen, such as headache or muscle soreness, but these are really signs of the immune system kicking in.”
Promise’s clinical pharmacist Dr. Kendra Borchers and Sioux Center Health’s lead pharmacist Dr. Paige Smit encourage the community to consider getting the vaccine once it’s available to the general public.
“I know a lot of people are apprehensive or anxious about the vaccine because of the newer technology that they perceive, but the technology they are using has been studied for decades and has been used for other key vaccines like rabies,” Borchers said. “I just want to encourage people that even though it does seem new, it has been studied for quite some time. We’re just using the available tools that we have to develop the vaccine.”
Generally the timeline for development of a medication is very linear, Smit said, explaining that a company will start a multi-phase process that begins with the development of a drug, getting approval for it and then starting clinical trials on patients. That’s then followed by the FDA granting approval before manufactures make mass quantities.
“With EUA, the government has essentially said to start building up a supply while the trials are being done and, if it’s approved, then the vaccines are ready more quickly,” Smit said. “It’s safe just as any other medication is approved. I believe this vaccine is trustworthy.”
Sioux Center Health and Promise staff still encourage people to follow the state’s existing coronavirus restrictions until more vaccinations are made available in 2021.
“Masking, social distancing, limiting social gatherings especially with Christmas coming up is all important because,” Nelson said, “if we can just hold tight for the next 60-90 days, we have a good shot of having everything moving in the right direction by next spring.”