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COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues in SW Minn.

MARSHALL — People in high-priority groups are continuing to receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, area health officials said Monday. But while they’ve gotten plenty of questions from area residents who want to know when they can get vaccinated, health officials are urging patience for now.

Being able to give vaccines to front-line medical workers and vulnerable populations like nursing home residents was “a tremendous first step,” said Ann Orren, community public health supervisor for Southwest Health and Human Services. “At the same time, we recognize there are many people in our communities who are eager to get the vaccine themselves. We don’t yet know when it will be available to the general public. Due to limited supply, not everyone can get vaccinated right away,” she said.

Orren said healthy adults without risk factors might not get the COVID-19 vaccine until this spring. However, area public health can’t predict a timeframe.

The Lyon County Joint Information Center, which includes SWHHS, Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center and the city of Marshall, gave an update on the area vaccine rollout on Monday.

COVID-19 vaccines are currently being administered according to the very first phase of a plan outlined by the Minnesota Department of Health, health officials said. Avera facilities in Marshall, Tyler and Granite Falls are vaccinating health care workers and long-term care residents, while SWHHS is vaccinating emergency medical workers and assisted living residents. In addition, some area long-term care facilities are working through large pharmacy chains for vaccines for staff and residents.

Stacy Neubeck, communications partner at Avera Marshall, said area Avera staff and nursing home residents have all had an opportunity to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and second doses will be administered over the next two weeks. Orren said local public health are finishing up giving vaccine clinics for emergency medical workers and some assisted living facilities.

People who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the early phases of distribution shouldn’t put it off, Orren said.

“It’s important to know that we can’t repurpose the vaccine now for individuals in later phases. We are required to use the vaccine for the groups identified in the state’s phased approach,” she said. “If we don’t use all of the vaccine we have, we may have to send it back to the state for use in another community. It benefits our communities to vaccinate as many eligible people as we can.”

Area health officials emphasized the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The vaccines have undergone rigorous testing by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure safety and efficacy,” said Dr. Steven Meister, chief medical officer at Avera Marshall. “The FDA is respected worldwide and its decisions are made by expert scientists and physicians. Safety is their top priority. In addition, Avera and state health experts have monitored the vaccine’s progress and the date from the clinical studies, and are confident in its safety and effectiveness. Data is showing effectiveness levels as high as 95%.”

Although vaccines are coming, Meister said it’s important to stay vigilant a about wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding high-risk situations that might cause the COVID-19 virus to spread.

“Hopefully we’re entering the home stretch, but we can’t let up on these crucial safety practices now,” Meister said.

More information on the COVID-19 vaccine is available online at www.avera.org/covid-vaccine.

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