As COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the nation, distribution within the Allina Health network has gone smoothly, according to Allina’s interim acute care officer, Ryan Else.

Over 90% of ER and critical care providers in Allina Hospitals have received the vaccine, Else said.

Allina runs Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids and Fridley.

So far Allina has only received the Pfizer vaccine, which requires temperatures of -94 degrees Fahrenheit for storage. Allina has been able to administer nearly all the vaccine doses the health system has received from the state, Else said.

“The implementation or rollout of this within Allina is really good,” Else said.

As one of the 32 registered vaccine providers in Minnesota, Allina receives the vaccine from the state. States are allocated the vaccine by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also provides vaccines directly to federal organizations like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Minnesota and other states receive doses on Tuesdays, then have two days to work with regional providers to determine how many doses they need to order on Thursday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Due to the limited number of doses distributed by the federal government, vaccines are being distributed in phases. Currently the last of the phase 1A groups are being vaccinated, which includes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, according to the Department of Health.

In Allina phase 1A employees range from lab technicians and physicians to nurses and housekeeping.

“It really does start with those health care workers that again have direct or potential indirect exposure to COVID,” Else said.

Outside of the health care field, first responders and police are also receiving doses of the vaccine.

“The vaccination is a significant step (in) keeping First Responders safe during this COVID pandemic,” Coon Rapids Fire Chief John Piper wrote in an email. All career firefighters in Coon Rapids have received the first dose.

Phase 1B is anticipated to start in early February, and it includes people in essential industries who cannot work from home.

While distribution has had few bumps, the largest challenge Allina faces currently is educating staff and answering questions about the safety of the vaccine.

“This vaccine is profoundly safe,” Else said. “At this point this vaccine has been given to millions around the world.”

The Pfizer vaccine is for people age 16 or older, while the Moderna vaccine is intended for anyone 18 or older, according to the Department of Health.

Some people should not get the vaccine — they are limited to people who have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous COVID-19 vaccine dose or to ingredients in the vaccine. People who have had anaphylactic reactions to other medication, particularly injected medication, can get the vaccine but should be monitored for 30 minutes afterward, the health department says.

While there are some minor side effects, like sore arms and the occasional fever, Allina has not seen any serious adverse side effects such as anaphylactic shock so far, according to Else.

Both vaccines currently available require weeks between the two doses. Else explained that the multiple doses are important for creating a strong immune response.

“Repeat exposure to the vaccine is the best way for our body to identify the COVID virus and develop a really strong immune response to protect us moving forward,” he said.

The delay between doses allows the body enough time to have a full immune reaction to the first dose and calm down before the second exposure, according to Else.

After receiving the first dose, vaccinated individuals do have some increased protection from the virus. But even after getting the second dose recipients should continue to follow social distancing guidelines to avoid the possibility of spreading the disease.

“Even though the vaccine may protect them from getting a COVID infection, it is still possible that they could have a very low-grade exposure to COVID which they could then spread throughout our community,” Else said.

For more information about the vaccine, go to the Minnesota Department of Health website at tinyurl.com/yyfyx7mm.

The headline has been updated.

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