The Wyoming Department of Health has announced that the first COVID-19 vaccine shipments have arrived in Wyoming and are in the process of being distributed.

The first shipments arrived on Monday, carrying an initial 4,875 doses divided into five packages of 975 doses each. The first two of these packages have been delivered to the public health departments in Casper and Cheyenne. The remaining three packages will be delivered on Tuesday to hospitals in Cody, Jackson, and Gillette.

Among those three remaining counties, various factors will go into deciding how to distribute the vaccines.

Kim Deti, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health stated that different counties will have differences in their overall distribution plan.

“County health officials are going to work with the hospitals in their area, as well as other kinds of health clinics such as Urgent Care and places like that, to decide on a distribution plan,” Deti stated. “There is a special program for providing the vaccine to people who live in long-term care facilities and that’s going to involve pharmacies. It’s not going to cover every place in Wyoming, but it will involve a pharmacist going out to the local facilities and administering the vaccines to the people who live there.”

A press release sent out by the health department stated that “healthcare workers involved in direct patient care and vulnerable residents of Wyoming’s long-term care facilities are among the first groups targeted to receive the new vaccine.”

“Two doses received three to four weeks apart will provide the highest level of protection,” the release noted.

WHD is ordering the COVID-19 vaccine through a federal process, with shipments going directly to key hospitals (such as Wyoming Medical Center and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center) and local health departments. Additionally, separate amounts are expected to be provided directly from the federal government to tribal health clinics and military bases, as well as the U.S. Veterans Affairs facilities.

“Our planning is intended to ensure we make the most of any and all vaccine doses we receive as this is an important resource for our state and communities,” said Stephanie Pyle, Public Health Division senior administrator with WDH.

While the first shipments are going to those who need the vaccine the most, it’s only a matter of months, possibly less, before the vaccine will be made available to the general public.

“We’re excited,” Deti stated. “We’re excited to have that light at the end of the tunnel to kind of see a way forward through this pandemic. People are going to have to be patient though; it’s not over yet. We’re still going to need people to wear their face masks and stay away from other people and, of course, stay home when they’re sick, except to seek medical care. This is going to take a while, but there’s a way out – there’s a path forward.”

Deti said that it’s up to the community to maintain personal responsibility as well, in addition to the vaccine.

“It’s going to have to be a combination for some time, but this is the best way for us to get back to normal. The vaccine and the promise that it holds and patients following up on the recommendations that we’ve made – that’s the path forward. That’s the way out of the pandemic.”

The health department has been waiting on approval from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and they got that approval over the weekend, according to Deti.

It is important to note that, according to the press release, this vaccine will be free to the general public.

“Getting vaccinated will be free; people receiving the vaccines will not be asked to pay any fees,” the release stated. “Healthcare professionals offering the vaccine will later be able to bill insurers for administration costs and to seek federally funded reimbursement for vaccination of uninsured individuals.”

Now, it’s just a waiting game.

Deti said it’s a matter of months until the vaccine is available to the general public and that she couldn’t be any more specific than that, but that this is the beginning stage of, hopefully, overcoming the pandemic.

“I sure do like talking about the vaccines and tools that can help end this pandemic a lot better than I like announcing that we’ve lost more of our residents to the coronavirus,” she said.

Dr. Aleia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health said news of the vaccine was exciting and that other vaccines are in the works as well.

“Knowing we have safe and effective vaccines arriving is like seeing light at the end of a tunnel,” she said. “We have an end in sight at this point, which was not true for many months during this pandemic. We have hope and a reminder that this situation is for now and not forever.”

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