(Update: Adding video, details)
Caregivers not required, but encouraged to receive vaccinations
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Nearly 1,000 of St. Charles Health System’s 4,500 caregivers will get their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine starting next week and a second dose three weeks later, officials said Tuesday as they outlined the priorities and the logistics involved.
As with other areas, the priorities will focus on those who are key to maintain hospital capacity and/or are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, from doctors and nurses to other medical and support staff such as meal delivery and housekeeping, officials said Tuesday.
The 975 doses are due to arrive Thursday and will be given starting next Monday under priorities laid out by the CDC and Oregon Health Authority, Dr. Cynthia Maree, infectious disease specialist at St. Charles Bend, told reporters at a briefing Tuesday afternoon.
Because more doses are expected soon, the 975 in the initial shipment will go to that number of caregivers, in what’s called the “first wave” of vaccinations. A second dose will be needed in three weeks. For logistical reasons, all of the vaccinations will take place at St. Charles, with some workers traveling from other hospitals to Bend to get them.
The first, Pfizer vaccine requires -70 degree ultra-cold storage, so St. Charles is seeking a second freezer from the Oregon Health Authority. The vaccine thaws for 2-3 hours and then must be used within 72 hours.
The “Phase 1A” vaccinations as laid out by CDC guidelines include health care workers and patients and staff at long-term care facilities. Under Oregon Health Authority priorities, St. Charles will focus on employees who are critical to maintaining hospital capacity and a variety of caregivers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, from doctors and nurses to therapists, those who deliver meals and “environmental services” (housekeepers/cleaning staff).
The next phase of vaccinations will be directed to “essential workers” – not fully defined as of yet, but likely to extend from police and firefighters to food and agricultural workers. After that comes Phase 1C, with vaccinations for adults with high-risk medical conditions and seniors over 65.
At this point, officials expect the vaccines to be available to the general public by late spring or early summer.
St. Charles has seen a total of 350 COVID-19 patients this year, said Dr. Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive. That includes 32 in the hospital as of Tuesday morning, four in the ICU, three on ventilators.
“Our hospital is quite full,” Absalon said. “In fact, as of a few hours ago, our ICU was full.”
There are nearly 1,400 people from the four hospitals (and more than 200 outside providers) that are included in the high-priority “first wave” of vaccinations, if they are willing to get the shots – so it will take the next shipment, possibly of the Moderna vaccine (which doesn’t need ultra-cold storage and frees up the logistics) to cover that initial group's first doses.
Maree said that could take two weeks or longer, and it could take two months to provide the two doses of vaccines to everyone in area health care facilities.
A survey found more than half of St. Charles caregivers definitely want to be vaccinated, she said, and then there’s “a group in the middle still unsure, trying to decide,” and they will be the focus of education and information. Then there’s the 10-15 percent who are definitely not interested in getting the vaccine, for a variety of concerns and reasons.
She said it’s much like the “general concern among people in the community – not enough is known, it hasn’t been out there long enough.” So the message, she said, will be that the “very safe technology” is not new. Still, some don’t want or believe in vaccines, and they also decline flu shots – “a harder group of people to reach,” Maree said.
However, officials noted that more than 90 percent of the 800 medical staff said in the survey that they intend to get the vaccine – from physicians to nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
The vaccinated caregivers also will be asked to log symptoms or other issues using V-Safe, an after-vaccination health-checker that also will remind them when the second dose is due.
"Adjustments to the future vaccinations will be able to be made, based on the data they are gathering," Maree said.
A community work group that has been working on testing issues is extending to vaccine planning, including an incident command system working out the logistics. Meetings over the next few days will look at how best to allocate the vaccines, what order the various clinics (still being approved by the Oregon Health Authority) and providers will go in.
While the Phase 1B “essential workers” have not been defined as of yet, Dr. George Conway, Deschutes County Health Services director, was asked if teachers and school employees will be in that category, as a higher priority, to get schools open again. He called that “a very good question. It will be a consideration.”
Asked whether caregivers who decline the vaccine might be limited in their duties involving COVID-19 patients, Maree said they “haven’t got to the point where we’re addressing that concern” as of yet.
And even after they are vaccinated, the hospital staff will be required to wear the appropriate protective equipment, as they have up until now, since the vaccine doesn’t immediately eliminate the threat of exposure.
Still, Absalon said, "I just want to share that we're excited about this next phase -- the prospect of having one, potentially two vaccines that are quite effective and very safe is really exciting, and I think the start of our steps to eventually getting to the end of this pandemic."
But with over 3,000 cases so far in Deschutes County, Conway stressed, “This is going to be a long haul. By the time we get everyone immunized, it’s likely to be spring, possibly summer.”
Until then, he said, the steps outlined since the start of the pandemic are vitally important: “You don’t want to be the person who gets COVID just before they get the vaccine.”
(The video of the news conference is posted on St. Charles' Facebook page.)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- St. Charles Health System is due to get its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday and will use state guidance to decide who gets them first, President and CEO Joe Sluka said Tuesday.
With news late Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use," we are sure you are wondering what this means for us in Central Oregon," Sluka said in an update to the community.
Sluka added that "while information about the vaccine and plans for distribution is evolving rapidly," he provided where things stand, as of Tuesday:
- St. Charles is set to receive its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, Dec. 17.
- The Oregon Health Authority has outlined a phased approach to vaccination, meaning health care workers, long-term care facility residents and emergency responders will be first on the list.
- The state is working with commercial pharmacies to distribute the vaccine to long-term care facilities, which means St. Charles is not responsible for this portion of the vaccine distribution.
- We are working on plans to administer the vaccine to St. Charles caregivers based on the Oregon Health Authority’s guidance for prioritization – this means those staff members who are critical for maintaining hospital capacity to serve the greatest number of patients and who have the most direct exposure to COVID-19 will be given the vaccine first.
- St. Charles caregivers are not required to take the vaccine, but we are encouraging them to do so.
- All of our staff will be required to continue masking and distancing until we achieve a high rate of vaccination throughout the general public.
- We do not yet know when we will have enough vaccine supply in Central Oregon to begin vaccinating high-risk patients, but anticipate it could be several months.
For an inside look at how St. Charles has been preparing to receive and store the first vaccine doses at required ultra-cold temperatures, Sluka shared this video:
"The approval of the Pfizer vaccine – and the likely approval of the Moderna vaccine this week – is such an exciting step in our fight against COVID-19 and our quest to return to a more normal way of life," Sluka wrote.
"But we are not out of the woods yet," he added. "We continue to see high daily positive case counts in our three counties and our numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also remains high." (The hospital reported 32 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, four of whom were in the ICU, three on ventilators.)
"We need your help to continue distancing, masking and hand washing in order to give the vaccine a chance to bring our numbers down in a meaningful way," the hospital official wrote.
"Thank you, again, for hanging in there throughout these difficult months," Sluka said. "Your support continues to mean so much to our frontline health care heroes."