COVID-19 Vaccines have arrived in Wyoming and vaccinations for the virus have begun, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

Vaccines arrived earlier this week and were distributed to health departments and hospitals in Casper, Cheyenne, Jackson, Cody, and Gillette. Currently, the priority is to offer vaccines to medical professionals providing direct care to patients, as well as residents of Wyoming’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state health officer and state epidemiologist for the Wyoming Department of Health, stated that the first number of doses given out will be relatively small.

“Working with our county and healthcare provider partners, we established priorities to make clear who should receive the first-available vaccine doses,” she said. “Our initial focus across the state involves healthcare workers involved in direct patient care and residents of long-term care facilities.”

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Prioritized descriptions of the “Phase 1A Distribution” plan groups can be found https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/immunization/wyoming-covid-19-vaccine-information/.

Harrist said that the first approved vaccine is recommended for most people over the age of 16, with two doses being given about three weeks apart in order to be most effective.

Even though we have a vaccine, it will still take some time before it will be made available to the general public. This means that it’s still important to follow the guidelines given by the WDH.

“Putting an end to this pandemic will take all our tools,” Harrist said. “Now we can add vaccines to wearing masks, social distancing and staying home when we are ill,” she said. “For now and for some months to come, we need all of these strategies as we work to eliminate this virus and to help things get back to normal as soon as possible.”

Despite it’s relatively quick turnaround, Harrist emphasized that the vaccine has been approved by the FDA and it is safe.

 “Things may have moved quickly with these vaccines due to unprecedented focus and investment, but safety has remained important. No steps were skipped,” she said.

Unlike the flu, the COVID vaccine will not “infect” the recipient with the disease, nor will it cause individuals to test positive for the virus.

“The goal of these vaccines is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19,” Harrist said. “Sometimes this may lead to symptoms or side effects such as a sore arm or mild, short-term fever. Symptoms like this are normal and tell us our body is building immunity.”

It is also important to note that, despite alleged reports from Fox News and various social media comment threads, the vaccine is not mandatory.

“More than 300 Wyoming families are mourning the loss of someone they loved due to the virus. The burden on our hospitals remains high. Businesses and communities are facing big challenges,” Harrist said. “That’s why I recommend and encourage Wyoming residents to get vaccinated when it is their turn to do so.”

The Department of Health notes that another company’s vaccine is expected to be authorized later this week. If this is, indeed, the case, then each Wyoming county will receive initial shipments of vaccine doses by next week. WDH expects shipments to continue from both companies through the upcoming months.

WDH said that they are ordering the COVID-19 vaccine through a federal process with shipments going directly to key hospitals and health departments. Separate shipments are expected to be provided directly from the federal government to tribal health clinics and military bases, as well as to the U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities.

The vaccine will be offered through a phased system, based on production and availability. It will be offered free of charge to those who elect to receive it.

More information about COVID-19 vaccines from the CDC can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html.

More information about COVID-19 in Wyoming can be found at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/infectious-disease-epidemiology-unit/disease/novel-coronavirus/.

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