It was business as usual this week at Martin Luther Campus in Bloomington, but there is a smidgen of optimism in the air.
COVID-19 vaccinations began at the senior living community last week. The start of the vaccination process will not change the way employees and residents at Martin Luther go about their business any time soon, but it offers something that has been lacking in the months since the coronavirus pandemic limited the interactions that take place on a daily basis. Vaccinations provide “a chance to be optimistic,” said Annie Gollnick, a nurse and infection preventionist at Martin Luther.
The dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine to both staff members and residents at Martin Luther will not end the precautions and protocols that have been in place since last March, but they are steps toward a day when residents and their family members may freely visit with one another. Limited outdoor visitation has been allowed during the past several months, but that option has been off the table for a while, Gollnick noted.
“Minnesota doesn’t make that very easy,” she said.
Residents and staff members have been eager to receive the vaccine, Gollnick added. “Not one of them resisted.”
The vaccine may be “the light at the end of the tunnel,” but it is not a short tunnel, according to Nick Kelley, Bloomington’s acting public health administrator.
Bloomington’s Public Health Division, which serves the cities of Bloomington, Edina and Richfield, will help disseminate the vaccine, working with health care providers that are not affiliated with a major medical provider. The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for prioritizing the populations receiving the vaccine, Kelley explained.
Beginning this week, the Public Health Division is coordinating the dissemination and administration of the vaccine, through clinics that will be set up for the groups identified as the first in line for the vaccine, Kelley added.
There are two vaccines available, and likely more on the way. Much has been made of the effort to fast-track a COVID-19 vaccine, and their development has been a phenomenal achievement in science, according to Kelley, who earned his PhD studying flu vaccines.
Their development featured overlapping steps that typically occur sequentially, which allowed the vaccines to reach the public faster than usual. But the steps in the approval process were otherwise completed all the same. “The regulatory process worked exactly as it was supposed to,” Kelley said.
The vaccines available require two doses, which is common. The first acts as a priming dose, which prepares the body to respond to the second dose. It is the second dose that provides strong immunization, according to Kelley. Some vaccines require more than two doses, and it’s possible a future COVID-19 vaccine will require only one dose, he noted.
The vaccines are not interchangeable, and as additional vaccines receive approval, public health providers will be better positioned to do their jobs, Kelley added.
It is difficult to project how soon vaccines will be available to the entire population. “We still have several months ahead of us in following that pandemic guidance,” according to Kelley.
The pandemic restrictions and protocols have created fatigue, for the shoppers at local grocery stores and the health care workers whose jobs have become more challenging during the past year. “Everybody is exhausted and tired,” Kelley said.
But following the guidelines for preventing infections remains important, despite the roll out of the vaccine. “It’s tempting to let your guard down,” Kelley acknowledged. “We can’t get complacent.”
Vaccines are being provided through the federal government, regardless of an individual’s insurance coverage. Taxpayers may bear the burden of the vaccine, but residents will not have to open their wallets for access to it, Kelley explained.
The Public Health Division will provide information about the vaccine and updates regarding its public distribution through its various outreach methods, as will the communications staff in each city it covers. General information for all three cities is available online at blm.mn/vaccine-faq.
By the end of 2021, the COVID-19 vaccination will be the largest vaccination effort ever completed in the United States, but there will be challenges in the distribution. Kelley expects the process to continue into the summer, and by spring there should be signs of the vaccine’s impact, he said.
“We made it this far, we’re going to get there.”
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.