Panhandle Health announces initial plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

KOOTENAI CO., Idaho — As the Inland Northwest waits for what could be the vaccine that ends the pandemic, a North Idaho hospital is shutting its doors to visitors because of the unchecked spread of COVID-19.

Starting Wednesday, Kootenai Health will not allow some visitors inside the hospital. Officials say this will protect patients and staff members from COVID-19 exposures.

There are some exceptions, patients under 18 can have two visitors as long as those are parents or guardians as well as non COVID patients who need a caregiver can have one there.

Panhandle Health announced 302 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and there are currently 79 people being treated in local hospitals. While the vaccine is on its way, health officials are urging people to stay the course and continue to follow health mandates.

Idaho is slated to receive 13,650 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the initial rollout. The Panhandle will be receiving just less than two thousand of those. However, there is not an exact number for the second and third shipments.

“One hospital will receive their shipment directly and then we will be distributing the vaccine out to hospitals and home health agencies that have requested the first shipment of the vaccine,” said Katherine Hoyer, public information officer at Panhandle Health

This rollout is considered to be the largest logistical mission in U.S. history.

“There will be no higher priority shipments in our network than these vaccine shipments,” said Richard Smith, VP of Fedex.

Panhandle Health says the initial vaccines in the region will go out to frontline workers caring for COVID patients and while images of people starting to be vaccinated all over the world are a reassurance, it is still going to be months until the general population can get that coveted vaccine.

“We still need to continue to take the precautions even after you receive your first dose you have about 50-52% immunity and then when you receive that second dose with the Pfizer vaccine they’re saying that like a 95% effectiveness,” said Hoyer.

Panhandle Health says there are still many unknowns about the supply and distribution of the vaccine, one of the concerns is the ultra-cold freezers that the Pfizer vaccine must be stored in.

“So the state actually did buy ultra-cold freezers for each health district so we should be receiving ours, but other health care facilities. They already some have ultra-cold freezers on hand that they can store, but the Pfizer vaccine can also be recharge with dry ice,” said Hoyer.

If you do get the vaccine it is still recommended that you wear a mask for a couple of weeks following the second vaccine because it takes roughly that long to build up the immunity in your body.

READ: ‘For the first time in a while, I feel hope’: Healthcare workers receive first COVID-19 vaccinations in Washington 

READ: Washington state receives its first shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine