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The careful work to vaccinate Pierce County as quickly as possible.

You probably spent most of 2020 hoping for the day a COVID-19 vaccine would arrive in Pierce County.

Now that day’s here, and you’re probably wondering how quickly you will receive it.

We all want to end the suffering COVID-19 has caused, and we all want life to return to normal as soon as possible. Vaccination is our best path forward.

Off and running.

The FDA issued its Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine on Dec. 11. The first doses arrived in Washington on Dec. 14. Then the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine received its EUA and began arriving the following week.  Each vaccine has different order sizes and storage and handling requirements. Complicating matters: The state doesn’t always know for sure how many vaccines it will get each week.

Still, thousands of people have already been vaccinated. As of yesterday:

  • About 13,200 people who work in Pierce County or reside in a local LTC have received their first dose of vaccine in Pierce County.
  • About 8,300 residents received their first dose—either here or in the county where they work.

We’re off and running, but people will need to be vaccinated more quickly in the weeks and months ahead. Earlier this week, the state announced the next groups of people who will be eligible. 

The most wonderful—and busy—time of the year.

Make no mistake, a mass vaccination program on this scale and timeframe presents logistical challenges. Our staff has been working for months with federal, state and local partners to help plan solutions.

The vaccine arrived in the middle of the holiday season. Even though we planned for its arrival, receiving the first shipments during the time when many people were taking time off added up to a rolling start, like in a NASCAR race. Now that the holidays are over, providers are gearing up to speed up the rollout of future phases.

Logistical challenges.

One of those challenges is storage and handling. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, is shipped in trays of 975 and must be stored in special refrigerators at 94 degrees below zero. Once it’s broken down from the batch of 975, it must be refrigerated and used within five days.

Then, once it’s time to use the vaccine, it must be “reconstituted.” That means it must be mixed with another liquid and used within six hours or thrown out.

One more wrinkle: The vaccines we have available now require two doses. That means a second dose is set aside for now, and that we must make plans to ensure everyone who received a first dose comes back for the second.

We also must work carefully within the state’s guidelines to make sure our local vaccine plans prioritize vaccination for those who need it most—first. As more guidance emerges, more people will be eligible for vaccination. We will continue to work with our healthcare partners, including large and small healthcare systems, pharmacies, and independent healthcare providers to quickly ramp up the number of shots going into people’s arms.

Special steps to protect long-term care facilities.

Those living or working in our long-term care facilities (LTCF) have experienced some of the worst health outcomes during the pandemic. In Pierce County, more than half the people who died from COVID-19 lived or worked in an LTCF.

To protect this group as quickly as possible, the federal Pharmacy Partnership is facilitating vaccinations for staff and residents.

The federal government required each state to set aside about 50% of the vaccines of our initial supply to prioritize vaccines for a highly vulnerable group. This important step will reduce hospitalizations and save lives.

Hard work and planning pay off.

Many people across Pierce County are doing hard, complicated work and planning to protect our residents. With each passing day, our systems will become more efficient and more people will receive their vaccination.

You may want to know when it’s “your turn” for the vaccine. We hear you! As we follow the state’s guidelines for the phased rollout, we promise to keep you posted.

We are already planning updates to our tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture page to share the official word of the Phase 1b rollout. And we promise to provide updates via social media and our Your Reliable Source blog. Sign up for it at tpchd.org/notify. Look for an update later today!

In the meantime, do the best you can to be patient, trust that we will keep you informed, and keep doing all the things to protect yourself and those around you: 

  • Keep gatherings small—Limit your close contacts to five or fewer people per week.
  • Stay outside if possible. The fresh, open air circulates better outside than inside.
  • Wear a mask when you leave home.
  • Maintain a Safe Six feet of physical distance.
  • Stay close to home.
  • Get a test for COVID-19 if you experience symptoms or have participated in any gatherings.
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation.

Thousands of people have received their vaccines already, and thousands more will in the days ahead. Let’s work together to get Pierce County across the finish line!

Moderna Vaccine vial