Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Vaccine arrival is turning point in pandemic

| December 20, 2020 12:00 AM

At long last, there was some good news to report about the COVID-19 pandemic this week as the first shipment of the vaccine arrived at Kalispell Regional Medical Center and health-care workers began receiving vaccinations.

It makes perfect sense that employees who have the highest risk of exposure to the virus, such as respiratory therapists and emergency room workers, were given top priority for receiving the first shots.

After an agonizingly long year, this is the turning point we’ve hoped for. Although health officials caution it’s too soon to let down our guard (keep those masks on), the widespread distribution of vaccines signifies the beginning of the end of one of the worst public health crises in the world.

There no doubt will be glitches as the rollout of vaccines continues. On Friday Gov. Steve Bullock announced the state’s anticipated allocation of vaccine doses through the end of the year has been reduced by the federal government by 20% from 60,000 down to 48,000. Patience will be required as this monumental distribution plays out.

Another dose of good news this week came from the Flathead City-County Health Department, which reported new cases and hospitalizations in the county have been steadily declining over the last four weeks. The county currently has about 1,000 active COVID-19 cases, which is about half the number Flathead County was experiencing one month ago. Hospitalizations are also down 50% from what they were in mid-November.

Because of the drop in active cases, the health department once again is performing contact tracing and investigations on all new cases, tasks that got sidelined in early fall when mounting case numbers overwhelmed the staff.

One of the remaining challenges for health officials is educating the public about the vaccine so people will feel comfortable getting the shot when the time comes.

Flathead County Public Health Officer Joe Russell told the health board the ultimate goal is to have 70% of the local population vaccinated for COVID-19. And he acknowledged hitting that mark may be difficult, given vaccine hesitancy in the area. Russell, who came out of retirement to lead the health department through the pandemic, said he is nevertheless confident the department has a strong plan laid out to achieve that goal.

Chelsea Dunshee, a nurse practitioner at Family Health Care who was among the first local health-care workers to receive the vaccine, had some good advice for the rest of us.

"I would say if you’re on the fence, reach out to your health-care provider, a health professional or someone you trust within the medical field," Dunshee said. "They would be able to answer your questions with the best science-based literature that we have available to us."

Don’t fall prey to social media sites or YouTube videos aimed at misinforming and misleading people about COVID-19. Ask your own doctor or care provider instead.

We’ve come this far, and armed with knowledge and respect for our health-care professionals, we can go the distance in putting this pandemic in the rearview mirror.