COVID vaccines arrive at St. John's and are loaded into the ultra-cold vaccine freezer. Photo: St. John's Health

JACKSON, Wyo. — St. John’s Health in Teton County has received its first shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines which are now sitting in the “ultra-cold” freezer that St. John’s uses to store the vaccines.

Teton County Health Department and St. John’s Health will begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers this week, in accordance with guidelines from the Wyoming Department of Health. The green light to begin administering the vaccine came after the FDA granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend it for people age 16 and older. Teton County was able to receive the Pfizer vaccine because St. John’s Health had previously acquired the ultra-cold freezer required to store it.

“With our partners at St. John’s, we have been looking forward with much anticipation and preparation to having the vaccine available in Teton County,” said Jodie Pond, MPH, Director of Health at the Teton County Health Department. “Over the next several weeks, we will be able to vaccinate those who are charged with taking care of the health of our community.”

Right now, the vaccine is not available to just anyone. The initial group to receive the vaccine will include those who work closely with COVID patients; hospital direct care staff, paramedics and EMTs, long-term care and assisted living facility providers, public health nurses providing COVID-19 vaccines, and others listed in the Wyoming Department of Health’s 1A tier as additional vaccine shipments arrive in Teton County.

The Teton County Health Department will continue to work closely with the Wyoming Department of Health on plans to vaccinate additional segments of the community as more doses of vaccine become available. Guidance for developing distribution plans has been provided by CDC, ACIP, and the Wyoming Department of Health Medical Ethics Committee, based on the State of Wyoming’s vaccine plan.

“A vaccination is critical to moving toward the conclusion of this pandemic,” said St. John’s Health CEO Paul Beaupre, MD. “We are all eager to see vaccines provided to other tiers of the community, including essential workers and high-risk populations. We are grateful to be taking this huge step forward this week and hopeful that the rest of the community will want to follow in our footsteps once the vaccine is more widely available.”

Until at least 80% of the community has received the vaccine for COVID-19, Teton County Health Department is asking all members of the community to adhere to public health COVID-19 mitigation measures: hand washing, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and staying home when sick.

“I think for right now, it’s really beneficial for the community to just enjoy this moment of excitement and hope around us,” Karen Connelly, the Communications Officer for St. John’s Health said. “This really is a huge step forward.”

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine in Teton County, WY, visit their website.

Wyoming Department of Health vaccine distribution and information

Free, safe, and effective vaccinations intended to help prevent future COVID-19 infections have been distributed not just in Teton County, but throughout Wyoming.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH), said the first approved vaccine is recommended for most people who are age 16 and older with two doses about three weeks apart needed for the vaccine to be effective.

Photo of the first COVID-19 vaccine administered in Wyoming. It was given at the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department this morning to a local public health nurse. Photo: WDH

“Putting an end to this pandemic will take all our tools. Now we can add vaccines to wearing masks, social distancing and staying home when we are ill,” she said. “For now and for some months to come, we need all of these strategies as we work to eliminate this virus and to help things get back to normal as soon as possible.”

Harrist noted COVID-19 vaccines, like other vaccines, are held to high standards to make sure they are safe. “Things may have moved quickly with these vaccines due to unprecedented focus and investment, but safety has remained important. No steps were skipped,” she said.

COVID-19 vaccines will not give the illness to people who receive them or cause individuals to test positive for the virus. “The goal of these vaccines is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19,” Harrist said. “Sometimes this may lead to symptoms or side effects such as a sore arm or mild, short-term fever. Symptoms like this are normal and tell us our body is building immunity.”

Harrist said COVID-19 remains a serious threat in our state and patience is needed, but the vaccines are a huge step forward toward ending the pandemic and its consequences.

“More than 300 Wyoming families are mourning the loss of someone they loved due to the virus. The burden on our hospitals remains high. Businesses and communities are facing big challenges,” Harrist said. “That’s why I recommend and encourage Wyoming residents to get vaccinated when it is their turn to do so.”

Harrist said the number of doses available early will be relatively small. “Working with our county and healthcare provider partners, we established priorities to make clear who should receive the first-available vaccine doses,” she said. “Our initial focus across the state involves healthcare workers involved in direct patient care and residents of long-term care facilities.”

Prioritized descriptions of the “Phase 1A Distribution” plan can be found online.

Another company’s vaccine candidate is expected to be authorized late this week. If that happens, each Wyoming county will receive initial shipments of vaccine doses by next week. WDH expects shipments to be available and then continue from both the first and second companies.

WDH is ordering COVID-19 vaccines through a federal process with shipments going directly to key hospital partners and local health departments. Separate amounts are also expected to be provided directly from the federal government to tribal health clinics, military bases, and to U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities.

A special, targeted effort involving pharmacy chains to help vaccinate residents of Wyoming’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities is also planned in the coming weeks.

Vaccination efforts will continue over the coming months with a phased approach based on production and availability. People receiving the vaccines will not be asked to pay any fees.

More information about COVID-19 vaccines from the CDC and in Wyoming can be found online.

Buckrail @ Jacob

Jacob Gore was born and raised in Cheyenne, the capital city of Wyoming. As a proud Wyomingite, he loves to share his home with visitors from around the world. Spending years in Jackson and Alaska as an interpretive nature guide, he remains a photographer, traveler, storyteller, and avid hobbyist of all-things outdoors. Jacob enjoys bridging the connection between Jackson and the rest of the state.