St. Luke’s Wood River health-care providers administered the initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to some front-line staff on Wednesday, as thousands of doses shipped to Idaho are gradually filtering to the first round of recipients.

A St. Luke’s registered nurse, Molly Gill, was the first Wood River staff member to receive an inoculation of the vaccine at 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

Dr. Deb Robertson, medical director of the emergency department at St. Luke’s Wood River, and Dr. Terry O’Connor, an emergency physician, also received first doses of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical company Moderna. They and other staff who receive the Moderna vaccine will be given a second dose after 28 days, said Joy Prudek, public relations manager for St. Luke’s Wood River.

“It’s a feeling of elation that we’re finally in the pathway of getting through this pandemic,” Robertson said Wednesday, noting that the shot did not hurt. “It gives me a sense of hope.”

Both doctors said they have had questions about the vaccines being developed and approved this year but did not hesitate to receive the Moderna vaccine after they consulted the data and research in the scientific community.

“I did not get this shot today with any trepidation or fear,” O’Connor said.

The doctors agreed that the start of administering COVID vaccines at St. Luke’s Wood River is a positive turn in what has been a difficult year.

“It’s promising to end 2020 with hope,” Robertson said.

The Boise-based St. Luke’s Health System received 975 doses of the federally approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week and started inoculations of that two-dose vaccine to high-risk staff in the Boise and Twin Falls areas last Friday, Dec. 18. The Moderna vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 18 and shipments were commenced on Sunday.

The two vaccines are based on similar technology and were about 95 percent effective in clinical trials. As of Wednesday, the federal government had contracted to buy 200 million doses of each of the vaccines, a total of 400 million doses that would vaccinate 200 million Americans.

The Twin Falls-based South Central Public Health District—which serves Blaine and seven other counties—received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week but has not confirmed any additional shipments, said Brianna Bodily, the district’s public information officer. The district is expecting to receive an additional 975 doses through the state to administer second doses of the Pfizer vaccine after 21 days, Bodily said. The district expects to receive 2,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, she said.

Dr. Deb Robertson

Dr. Deb Robertson, medical director of the St. Luke’s Wood River Emergency Department, seen here, and emergency physician Dr. Terry O’Connor received their first doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Neither vaccine is available to the general public in Idaho, including the Wood River Valley. All the doses in the first shipments of the vaccines are being administered to at-risk health-care workers and some residents of long-term care facilities, pursuant to state guidelines. The South Central Public Health District has stated that it will likely be spring or summer until the vaccines are made available to healthy members of the general public.

In Idaho, 6,538 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered by Wednesday morning, the state Department of Health and Welfare reported. The state has recorded 132,594 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began last winter, the department reported, contributing to 1,313 deaths.

While case counts remain elevated and some Idaho hospitals are under pressure from surges of COVID-19 patients, the South Central Public Health District reported Tuesday that case rates have declined across most of the district in December, but are still high compared to summer and spring months.

“The first three weeks in December had more than three times the number of cases in September and earlier months,” said Josh Jensen, the district’s program manager. “Obviously, we aren’t out of the woods yet, but this shows that working together we can slow the spread of this disease and protect lives.”

O’Connor said he has been “pleasantly surprised” that the Ketchum-area hospital has not experienced an appreciable jump in COVID-19 cases after the Thanksgiving holiday. He said he is hopeful that Blaine County residents will stay vigilant in working to slow the spread of the virus over Christmas and New Year’s.

Indeed, the Health District reiterated that it is important for Idahoans to continue measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and to keep hospital beds open during the busy holiday season.

“It’s important to keep beds open and hospital staff available to handle the holiday patient needs,” the district stated in a news release. “Watching our distance, wearing masks and washing our hands are simple steps to keep case rates low and get our hospitals back to regular operating conditions.”

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