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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

North Country making progress in COVID vaccine access

David Colburn
Posted 2/24/21

REGIONAL- Those 65 and older in the North Country wanting to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are likely grateful this week that Cook Hospital is following in the footsteps of Ely Bloomenson Community …

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North Country making progress in COVID vaccine access

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REGIONAL- Those 65 and older in the North Country wanting to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are likely grateful this week that Cook Hospital is following in the footsteps of Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital by offering community-based vaccination clinics.
And all can get a glimmer of hope for what’s to come from looking at what the Bois Forte Band has accomplished with its own vaccination efforts.
Statewide vaccination efforts started in December without a community-based clinic approach. The targets were high-risk health care workers, residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities, and emergency responders, all very specific groups in specific places.
When the CDC recommended in January that vaccinations be opened up to people 65 and older, it was a game changer for the progressive tier-based distribution officials had planned for. The scramble was on to stand up temporary and semi-permanent vaccination sites around the state and to gradually recruit community health clinics and local hospitals, as vaccines became available, to begin serving the nearly 1.1 million Minnesotans that were added to the eligibility rolls.
Ely
Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital offered its first community-based clinic for those 65 and older on Jan. 30 at Vermilion Community College, and two hundred area residents who received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose that day returned to the college gymnasium last Saturday for their second dose.
Beth Hartshorn, who works at the Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital pharmacy, said the Saturday clinic at VCC “went very smoothly. She added that “the doses were distributed quickly and no problems” with the patients. Patients received the Phizer vaccine.
“We are all very thankful to get the shots,” said Ely resident Gene Hicks after receiving his second dose. He makes and sells the popular ground coffee bearing his name.
“We didn’t have any problems,” said his wife, Jean Hicks. “We are looking forward to getting back to normal this summer.”
The Ely hospital was scheduled to hold another COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Thursday, Feb. 25 at the Grand Ely Lodge for 200 Ely-area residents to receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. They will return four weeks later for the second dose.
Cook
Cook Hospital was recently designated to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccine, and opened up preregistration for appointments for its first three-day vaccination clinic at the Cook Community Center, scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Feb. 24-26.
Director of Nursing Nichole Chiabotti said on Tuesday that the response leading up to the clinic has been strong and favorable.
“Preregistration and interest has been great,” Chiabotti said. “We have all appointments booked and have a pretty good waiting list as well.”
Chiabotti said they would be administering 100 doses per day.
It’s uncertain when the Cook Hospital will offer another vaccination clinic, Chiabotti said, because it all depends on the vaccine distribution system and when another lot of vaccine is designated for Cook Hospital. Because the notice they get is short and vaccines have to be administered within 72 hours, Chiabotti recommended that people sign up for the waiting list so that they will be notified directly of the next clinic. Register for the waiting list online at https://www.cookhospital.org/community-covid-vaccine-information/ or email vaccine@cookhospital.org.
Bois Forte
The experience of the Bois Forte Band offers a glimpse into a future in which vaccines are readily available, something not anticipated across the state or country until summertime.
The Bois Forte are part of a separate vaccine distribution system for reservation residents, which has also seen a limited supply.
But as a smaller tribe that also happens to have its own clinics and qualified health personnel, Bois Forte was positioned from the outset to make more progress than the country as a whole.
Clinic Administrator Sue Larson said on Tuesday that the clinics at Nett Lake and Vermilion have given over 1,300 vaccine doses and 400 second doses are already scheduled.
“The vaccines have been given in phases,” Larson said, “with the health care workers, EMTs, firefighters, elders and teachers in the first phase. The second phase included Bois Forte enrolled tribal members and their households.”
The phases, particularly with the emphasis on immunizing people living in the same household, are an alternative and effective way to distribute vaccines in the Bois Forte community as opposed to limiting vaccines to only specific ages or characteristics, Larson said.
Bois Forte is in the third phase of distribution for “Bois Forte descendants and their families, tribal government and Fortune Bay employees, along with the tribal businesses,” Larson said. They are averaging 50-60 doses daily between the two clinics.
Larson said they also have a mobile mass vaccination clinic for the urban offices in Duluth and the Twin Cities on March 18-19.
“Our goal is to reach as many tribal members and their families as we can and to continue to give the vaccines that are shipped to us for distribution,” Larson said.

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