FARGO — Jodi Robinson’s turn finally came. She was eager to come in for her first dose of vaccine to protect against the coronavirus that has upended her life for the past year.
Robinson, a paraprofessional with the West Fargo Public Schools, was one of about 800 who were vaccinated by Sanford Health on Monday, March 15, at the community vaccination center in the former Gordmans store, 5100 14th Ave. S. in Fargo.
It promises to be a busy week.
Combined, Fargo Cass Public Health, Sanford and Essentia Health have allocations to administer 8,000 doses of vaccine this week. All three expect larger vaccine allocations this week, and anticipate that vaccine deliveries now will occur weekly, instead of once every three weeks, essentially tripling their supply.
That opening of the valve in the vaccine pipeline, health providers said, will help to pick up the pace of vaccinations and what public health officials hope will be a steady march toward achieving herd immunity, generally believed to require at least 70% of the population to have recovered from COVID-19 or been immunized.
Robinson was one of the first to be vaccinated on Monday and she came without hesitation. “I’d rather get the vaccine than to worry about what might happen later on,” she said. Robinson has asthma and is prone to getting pneumonia.
She said the school kids are good about wearing masks and keeping a safe distance, but she worries about catching the potentially deadly virus and spreading it to co-workers, a risk she hopes vaccination will eliminate.
“And of course, you don’t want to carry it home to your family either,” Robinson said. Her husband, Michael, also received his first dose on Monday.
The former Gordmans store, which houses vaccine clinics for Sanford, Essentia and Fargo Cass Public Health, has been transformed into a herd immunity factory. On a good day, several thousand people can get an immunizing jab of the needle.
Once inside the main entrance, a visitor turns left or right to find their vaccination appointment, with Sanford to the left and Essentia and Fargo Cass Public Health to the right.
Sanford’s registration area, with a row of 10 desks, is beneath a “Guest services” sign hanging from the ceiling — one of many vestiges of the building’s previous life as a department store.
Visitors wait in seating areas with chairs spaced six feet apart. Once a person’s name is called, the patient reports to one of the registration desks, many festooned with a sign that says, “Welcome to Your Shot of Hope!”
Then, with assembly-line efficiency, it’s on to an appointment with the needle, followed by another chair, where the newly vaccinated wait for 15 minutes to be observed for a possible allergic reaction.
“I’m feeling very relieved and fortunate,” Robinson said after her shot. “Ready for this fight to be over.”
The atmosphere inside the center is quiet, without a lot of chitchat from people who are spaced apart and waiting their turn for a shot. Pop music on the sound system, another remnant from the store, helps to lighten the mood.
There’s nothing like a shot of vaccine to brighten a person’s outlook during a pandemic.
“People are so elated to get it,” said Melodi Krank, a senior nurse supervisor who is coordinating Sanford’s vaccination center, adding that the shots are by choice, not mandate. “Many of these people haven’t left their home in a year.”
Suzanne Schaefer, director of nursing for Fargo Cass Public Health, agreed that most are happy to be in the vaccination center.
“I would say there is an excitement in the air,” she said. “I think they are relieved to get that shot.”
The pace has picked up since the vaccine center opened earlier this year, as the supply has increased, especially now that there are three authorized vaccines, most recently the single-dose Johnson & Johnson option.
“We’re just moving along at a much faster pace than we anticipated,” Schaefer said. “That’s a good place to be.”
Last Friday, Fargo Cass Public Health administered 1,500 doses, a daily record, during a 10-hour day with 14 nurses giving shots.
Sanford can give up to 1,100 doses daily, Krank said. Essentia Health could give 1,000 daily but spreads that amount over three days to allow people more scheduling options, said Kelsey Nefziger, Essentia’s immunization program manager.
The number of doses administered fluctuates with the availability of vaccines. Some weeks, Fargo Cass Public Health gets an extra allocation when another health unit can’t accept its full allotment, Schaefer said.
As the supply of vaccines increases, all three organizations said they will increase capacity in a variety of ways. Public health could increase its hours of operation, Sanford could expand the number of days, Essentia is considering walk-in and drive-thru options.
Flu-shot blitz clinics, which local providers have done for years, were good preparation for mass COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We are very lucky that we've done those before,” Krank said. “We have lots of practice.”
Some people who were initially reluctant to be vaccinated are now more at ease with the idea after seeing family members, co-workers or friends get the shot without experiencing any problems, Nefziger said.
“I think there’s a lot more people who are feeling comfortable with it,” she said. Some have been waiting to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, since it requires only a single dose rather than two shots.
Both Essentia and Fargo Cass Public Health now are vaccinating those in phase 1C, in addition to remaining people eligible under phases 1A and 1B. Phase 1C includes ages 16 to 64 with one or more medical conditions that put them at higher risk and remaining segments of workers considered essential — a group that covers almost 60% of North Dakota’s population.
“So it’s pretty much the rest of the state,” Nefziger said. “That’s opening it up to nearly everybody.”
In fact, Nefziger expects that by next month, vaccinations will be open to all adults who want them.
As of Tuesday, 26.1% of North Dakota residents and 24% of Minnesota residents had received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. In Cass County, 25.5% of residents have received at least one dose, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. In Clay County, 20.5% of the population has received at least one dose, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Danielle Matta, a nurse practitioner who lives in West Fargo, also got her first dose on Monday. Because she gave birth earlier this year, she postponed her vaccination. Now that she’s nursing, she’s eager to be able to transmit her antibodies to the virus to her infant.
“I barely felt it,” she said of the shot. “Get some antibodies for the little one, too.”
For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations you can check online:
Inforum Vaccine Tracker: https://www.inforum.com/vaccinetracker