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Rural parts of the state get ready for the arrival of COVID vaccine, face some challenges

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As Moderna and Pfizer get ready to ship out COVID-19 vaccines, communities here in the Peace Garden State are finalizing their own plans. How will the vaccine be stored? Where will it be distributed? What about the rural parts of the state?

“This is going to look a lot different from our traditional flu season or other vaccines that we routinely give,” said Molly Howell, Immunization Program Manager with North Dakota Department of Health.

North Dakota is expected to receive close to 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines initially.
If approved, close to 7,000 will come from Pfizer and 13,000 from Moderna.

“I think the big issue is storage requirements,” said Lisa Clute, Executive Officer of First District Health Unit.

Clute says most rural hospitals or medical centers don’t have the proper equipment to store the vaccines, like the one from Pfizer, that needs to be kept at sub-zero temperatures.

Heart of America Medical Center CEO Erik Christenson says it is definitely a concern at the facility in Rugby.

“My understanding is that if we use the Pfizer vaccine, it would get delivered in, we receive it, make sure that it has been transported properly and then we just use it in the time frame that they allot us,” said Christenson.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart. Patients who receive the vaccine will be given a card to keep track of when they should receive their next dose, but keeping track of that will also fall on healthcare providers.

In Hettinger, Dr. Joshua Ranum has some of the same concerns.

“You could see that that could potentially be a fatal flaw in the system if 6,000 doses go to folks in Fargo one week and then three weeks they don’t have 6,000 doses of the same vaccine to revaccinate those people,” said Dr. Ranum.

Both Dr. Ranum and Christenson say they are continuing to look to the state’s Health Department for instructions and clarity over the next few weeks.

First District Health Unit is working closely with its six counties to make sure when the game-changing vaccine does arrive they’ll be ready.

State health officials say the very first doses of the vaccine will be reserved for workers at hospitals in Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks.

After that, long-term care residents and workers will take priority. If you’re not in a high-risk group, the state says you may not be able to receive a vaccine until spring or summer.

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