Avera St. Luke’s to administer first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

ABERDEEN, S.D. (Press Release) – Now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine, Avera St. Luke’s plans to administer the first doses that have been allocated by the state this evening.

“We will receive our first vaccines soon and plan to begin vaccinating our front line staff Tuesday evening. Avera St. Luke’s is grateful that the vaccine is now available and we can begin the lifesaving work of administering vaccines. While the vaccine won’t be available to everyone right away, please be assured that we will keep you informed. We recommend that people get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them,” said Tess Moeller, Director of Quality, Innovation & Strategy, Quality Risk Management and Avera St. Luke’s Vaccine Coordinator.

“A safe and effective vaccine is a vital step toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Basel, MD, Vice President of Avera Medical Group Quality. “The more people who get the vaccine, the closer we can get to ‘back to normal’ and see reduced illness and hospitalizations due to this virus. While masking and social distancing are important, a large number of people getting vaccinated is the only way this virus will get under control. The more people who get the vaccine, the more lives will be saved.”

The FDA has undergone a rigorous process to ensure this vaccine is safe and effective. “Avera and state health experts have monitored the vaccine’s progress and the data from the clinical studies and are confident in its safety and effectiveness,” Basel said.

Data on the vaccines is very promising. Vaccines are showing effectiveness levels as high as 95%. Side effects are generally mild and temporary, like headache, fatigue, mild fever and pain at the injection site. The first vaccine is approved for patients age 16 and older.

Vaccine allocation to states and locations is being based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state health officials, positivity rates, vaccine storage requirements, and national guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences as well as the Catholic Healthcare Association.

In South Dakota, the state health department is asking health systems, including Avera, to distribute the vaccine.

In Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, state health departments are working directly with vaccination sites for distribution.

Avera will start by vaccinating those health care workers essential to caring for the sickest patients in Sioux Falls with the Pfizer vaccine. Other regional centers in Aberdeen, Mitchell, Pierre and Yankton as well as critical access hospitals will receive Moderna vaccine. “This enables us to meet storage and vaccine integrity requirements,” Basel said.

Frontline workers include those in emergency medicine, intensive care, COVID units and long-term care who are at the highest risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Long-term care staff are also in the first wave.

Next, Avera will move to long-term care residents in South Dakota per CDC and state guidelines.
After this point, people will receive the vaccine based on their risk factors. This includes people who are 65 years of age or older or who have certain chronic medical conditions. Examples of these conditions include cancer, COPD, kidney disease, heart conditions, an immunocompromised state and diabetes.

Due to limited supply of the vaccine, not everyone will be able to get vaccinated right away. Healthy adults without risk factors may not receive the vaccine until this spring. At this time, Avera cannot predict a time frame beyond the first several weeks. The vaccine involves two doses. To develop immunity to COVID-19 it will be important to get both doses.

Avera will provide patients with information and education they need to make an informed decision about vaccination. The vaccine will only be administered to groups of people for whom the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective.

Patients do not need to contact their clinic to inquire about the COVID-19 vaccine. Current information on vaccine availability can be found at Avera.org/covid-vaccine.

“Avera has taken many steps to ensure we are ethical, fair and equitable in our distribution of the vaccine. Our ultimate goal is to play our part in ending this pandemic by vaccinating as many individuals against COVID-19 as we can,” Moeller said.