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Essentia Health receives first vaccine shipment in Duluth

Citing "security reasons," St. Luke's hospital wouldn't say whether it had received its first shipment.

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Vials containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota, on Dec. 14. Submitted/Sanford Health

Nearly 1,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Essentia Health in Duluth on Tuesday.

The second half of the health care system's initial allocation should arrive later this week, according to an Essentia Health spokesperson. After this week, Essentia hopes to receive a new shipment at least every other week, if not once a week.

Essentia Health and St. Luke's hospital, both in Duluth, are two of three hubs for the vaccine in Northeastern Minnesota. About a dozen other sites have been identified as what the state of Minnesota is referring to as "spokes," or places the hubs will distribute to.

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The Pfizer vaccine will be sent directly to hubs chosen by the state department of health. (Image courtesy of State of Minnesota)


As for the other Essentia locations around the Northland, Louie St. George III, media relations specialist for Essentia, said the health system is working "tirelessly" so the other sites can go live with the vaccine this week or next.

"Logistically, it’s intensely complex, and we’re collaborating with colleagues across the region to get this done as safely and efficiently as possible," St. George said. "We are working with those sites and, as we receive supplies, have arranged times for them to obtain their allocations."

As of early Wednesday, the health care system was planning to start vaccinating employees Thursday, Dec. 17. Until Tuesday morning, Essentia wasn't planning to do so until Monday, Dec. 21. During the first phase of vaccine distributions, priority goes to employees involved in direct patient care most at risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.

SEE ALSO How do the new COVID-19 vaccines work?

Citing "security reasons," a spokesperson for St. Luke's hospital in Duluth wouldn't say Tuesday whether the health system had received its first shipment of the vaccine or when employees will start receiving the vaccine.

"St. Luke’s is looking forward to the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine so we can start using it in the fight against the virus," read a statement from the hospital. "We are one of three hubs in northern Minnesota that will be receiving the vaccine. We will follow emergency authorization parameters for vaccinating health care workers during the first phase of distribution."

Neither health system granted the News Tribune access to photograph the arrival of the vaccines.

Statewide, 46,800 doses are expected to arrive at hubs this week, said Kris Ehresmann, the director of the Minnesota Department of Health's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division. But before hospitals and clinics can start vaccinating, they must first complete necessary training.


SEE ALSO 'Sun is coming up' as first COVID-19 vaccine shipments arrive in Minnesota, Dakotas

"This is going to be a process … it will take a little bit of time for all of our first allocation to arrive, but wheels are in motion," Ehresmann said in a Tuesday news conference. "So we'll be ready to hit the ground running with giving vaccines later this week or next week."

Some federal entities, such as the Indian Health Service and the Veterans Administration, have started vaccinating already. Ehresmann said that's because those locations don't operate within the state's system and have different processes and timelines.

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