First shipment of COVID vaccines arrives in Great Falls

Posted at 3:30 PM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 17:30:35-05

GREAT FALLS — 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 -112º and -76º 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 Benefis VP of Communication and Business Development, Kaci Husted.

“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 35º and 46º Fahrenheit and then left there for up to five days, or they can be thawed at room temperature (up to 77º 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.

Hospitals in Kalispell and Missoula also received COVID-19 vaccine shipments on Tuesday.