If things go as expected, the first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine should start arriving in North Dakota in just a couple of weeks, but it will take a while before everyone can be immunized.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to review a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer on Dec. 10 and one from Moderna on Dec. 17. Both have seen effective rates of 95 percent in clinical trials.
The first batch of Pfizer vaccine could arrive the week of Dec. 14 and North Dakota has been allocated 6,825 doses. The state has been allocated 13,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which could start arriving the week of Dec. 20.
Molly Howell, immunization director of the North Dakota Department of Health, said the state will get more doses after the first batch is distributed, and will get a weekly shipment.
“Each week, states will be allocated doses,” Howell said. “We’re not sure quite yet how many doses it will be.”
The first groups eligible to be vaccinated are health care workers and residents of long term care facilities. That is a big group to manage.
“There are almost 70,000 health care workers living in North Dakota and 12,000 people living in long-term care,” Howell said.
The state created an advisory group to determine the most ethical way to distribute the vaccine, and that group recommended that the first workers immunized are those at referring and critical access hospitals, with long-term care residents and staff following that.
Federal and state officials are also working on further distribution, including when groups like critical infrastructure workers, those 65 and older and those with underlying health problems will be eligible.
Howell said the state is going to be keeping the public up to date on when the vaccine will be available for everyone and that it hopes to move quickly, but it will likely be months before everyone can be immunized.
“If you’re not in one of the high risk groups, it’s probably not going to be next spring or summer until you get access to the vaccine,” Howell said.
Dr. Paul Carson, director of the NDSU Center for Research Immunization and Education, said getting vaccinated will help immunity spread more quickly and could spare hundreds of lives just in North Dakota.
“I will get this as soon as the Department of Health says I’m eligible,” Carson said. “I would encourage everyone of us in North Dakota, when we may be eligible, to receive these vaccines.”