GREAT FALLS — On Wednesday afternoon, several people became the first to receive the COVID vaccine in Great Falls.
It happened at the Great Falls Clinic Hospital. The first dose was received by Tim Street, a physician assistant, and it was administered by Karen Slotness, a nurse in the COVID unit/Inpatient Department. “Tell me when you’re gonna do it,” Tim joked right after receiving the shot. There was a moment of laughter and some applause. It was a moment that millions have been hoping for and looking forward to for months.
Street was followed by several other Great Falls Clinic staff members; the clinic created a Facebook photo album and said: "This album is dedicated to the employees and providers at the Great Falls Clinic that requested to show their support of the vaccine!"
“Maybe we’ve crested the mountain,” said Great Falls Clinic Surgical First Assist and Director of Robotics Vic Bonilla. “That’s my hope.”
“Yeah, I hope so too,” agreed Brehanne Kluge. “I hope that this makes a difference.”
“It’s just another shot in the arm,” said Clinic Nurse Kim Haselden. “Hopefully one that will stop this.”
I spoke with Vic and Brehanne right after they received their vaccine. I asked them how the shot felt compared to a normal flu shot. “Not much different,” said Brehanne. “I don’t think I felt anything, actually.”
Pretty easy? “Very easy,” Vic said, nodding.
Both also said that they hope people will get the vaccine when it becomes more widely available to the general public in a few months - if not for their own sake, then for other people. “It’s to save lives, you know? It’s not just about you,” Kluge explained. “It’s about everybody.”
Bonilla compared it to vaccines for polio and other viruses. He marveled at the quick timeline scientists had to produce such an effective vaccine. “It’s just given to us in a condensed time frame as opposed to years and years,” he said. “This is just months, which is amazing.”
The Great Falls Clinic says they plan to give up to 500 vaccines over the next few days. Benefis Health System will begin vaccinating their employees on Thursday.
There will be three phases of distribution for the vaccine. In Phase One, there will be a limited supply of the vaccine, and it will go to healthcare and infrastructure workers and people who are at increased risk for severe illness as a result of COVID. In Phase Two, which could be about three to six months after the initial vaccines arrive, people who are at increased risk of contracting the virus will be prioritized. Then in Phase Three, when the vaccine is widely available for anyone that wants to get it, healthy adults with limited or no chronic health conditions can get the vaccine, along with anyone who has not yet gotten it. State officials estimate Montana will enter this phase at least six months after the vaccines start being distributed, if not longer. Click here for more information.
The federal Food & Drug Administration says of possible side effects: "The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose."
The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says of possible side effects associated with the vaccine. They include pain and/or mild swelling on the arm where you receive the injection; and possibly a brief period of headaches, chills, fever, and fatigue. The CDC says: "COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you from getting COVID-19. You may have some side effects, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. These side effects may affect your ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days."
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(TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15) Inside a relatively normal looking box, the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines arrived at Benefis Health System late Tuesday morning. We’re still waiting to learn exactly how many doses were in the shipment, but Benefis officials told MTN on Tuesday that they believed they might be getting more than the original 975 doses they originally expected.
The shipment contained the allotted vaccines for Benefis and the Great Falls Clinic, which will remain at Benefis until the Clinic is ready to retrieve their share. Because Benefis has the ultra-cold storage required to store the vaccines (between -112 degrees and -76 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep the vaccines safe and ready to use, the two hospitals will be working together throughout this process.
“Our clinical teams are working really closely together to address all of those concerns and ensure that we each get the adequate allocation of vaccines that we need, as well as to make sure that they’re stored properly,” said Kaci Husted, Benefis VP of Communication & Business Development. “Obviously, we don’t want to be in a situation where any of the vaccines become unusable because of storage issues, so we have all those logistics and plans in place with our clinical teams and our pharmacy as well right now.”
According to the FDA, the vials of the vaccine must be thawed before distribution. They can either be thawed in a refrigerator between 35 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit and then left there for up to five days, or they can be thawed at room temperature (up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes and then used immediately.
The Great Falls Clinic will administer the first vaccine on Wednesday at 2 P.M., and Benefis hopes to follow suit on Thursday morning.
“We were able to survey all our employees last week and get accurate counts of exactly who in our organization wants a vaccine,” explained Husted. “There’s been some nuances to it, we have a Senior Services Division that will be getting a separate allocation of vaccines, as well as we own a critical access hospital in Choteau that will be getting a separate allocation of vaccines, and so we’ve worked out some of those nuances, and we think we have a pretty good plan in place. We expect to be able to start vaccinating our employees on Thursday morning.”
Husted says that based on the number of employees that have indicated that they want to receive the vaccine and who qualified to get the vaccine, Benefis believes that they will have enough doses from just this first shipment to vaccinate all of those preliminary qualifying healthcare workers.
The Clinic has not yet indicated how long they believe it will take to get all of their qualifying employees vaccinated.
As for when the next round of vaccines will arrive, as well as the second doses of these initial vaccines, officials are still waiting on an exact timeline, but they expect more shipments beginning next week.
“We believe that we’ll get some more next week,” said Husted, adding that the hospital is still waiting on specifics about exactly when the second doses for Round One will arrive. “In particular, the allocation that is going to our Senior Services Division and to our Critical Access Hospitals is expected to be here next week.”
The arrival of these vaccines is being viewed as some light at the end of a very long tunnel for many people around the country. At Benefis, it’s a sign of progress. Husted said that, while the hospital will keep all of its masking and other safety protocols in place moving forward, there’s no denying that this is a positive development in the country’s fight against this pandemic.
The vaccine will not be mandated by law, but it is possible that some businesses may require it for employees.