Vaccinations begin in Grand Forks, will likely continue for at least six months
Over the next weeks and months, the public can expect to have their questions about the COVID-19 vaccine answered by a widespread education campaign.
Between now and mid-January, about 80,000 North Dakotans will be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine, and Grand Forks Public Heath workers are preparing for their piece in the largest mass vaccination effort in U.S. history.
Local vaccination plans will continue to take shape over the coming days, said Haley Bruhn, who is coordinating vaccination efforts for Grand Forks Public Health. Still, she said, it's difficult to know what the coming months will bring.
"I know that it's challenging to be in a fluid situation like this," she said. "But I would expect that, at least for the next six months, we'll be doing vaccination for COVID on a large scale."
The first phase of vaccinations will be for North Dakota's health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Bruhn expects that phase of vaccinations to last until about mid to late January.
On Monday, Dec. 14, the North Dakota Department of Health's COVID-19 Vaccine Ethics Advisory Committee decided unanimously that the second phase of vaccinations will target the other highest-risk groups in the state: people older than 65 with multiple underlying health conditions, and residents and staff in prisons, jails and homeless shelters.
Those groups will be followed by people older than 65 with one underlying health condition, then people older than 65 with no underlying health conditions, then people with underlying health conditions of any age.
The following phases have yet to be decided, but next in line will likely be essential workers, followed by the general public.
Bruhn said much of Grand Forks Public Health workers' work right now involves identifying people who are eligible for the first vaccines and inviting them to receive the shot, as well as coordinating countywide vaccination plans with all the health care providers in the county who will be providing the vaccines.
Once members of the general public become eligible for the vaccine, they will likely self-identify, Bruhn said.
More than 400 health care providers in North Dakota have signed up to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, Bruhn said, including public health units and hospitals, but also a variety of other places that employ registered nurses. Residents of more rural counties will be inoculated in those counties and will not likely have to travel to receive the vaccine.
People who are invited to take the vaccine will receive their first dose, then wait at least 21 to 28 days, depending on which vaccine they receive, before receiving their second dose. Bruhn cautioned that even after receiving their second dose, it could take some time before mask-wearing and social distancing become less necessary.
"We are still a ways off from suppressing the infection, so until that can happen, we still need the preventative public health practices," she said.