First vaccines administered in South Big Horn County

By Nathan Oster

The first doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine were administered Wednesday in south Big Horn County.

Mary Freund, a certified nurse practitioner, was first in line at Three Rivers Health, where a total of 10 employees would eventually get their shots. All of them will require a second dose after 28 days have passed.

Freund has worked for the hospital for the past four years, but her history with the facility actually dates back to 1993, when she was hired for the first time. She’s seen a lot over the years. The arrival of the vaccine will go down as a highlight.

On the same day that Mary was given her shot, her daughter received one in Salt Lake City.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’ve all been looking forward to it. With the increase in numbers, this is how we’re going to get a handle on it.”

Shauna Brown, director of quality and risk/employee health, agreed, calling it “a day to be celebrated.

“This has been such a unique year, to say the least, with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. It’s been tough, but I’m so proud to be a part of this experience and opportunity. It’s given us all some hope.”

Freund said that because the vaccines are being distributed in stages, people who receive a shot won’t be able to relax.

“People still need to wear masks, they still need to social distance, until COVID-19 completely goes away,” she said. “If we could do the whole population at once, it would be different. But we’re doing it in shifts, so some get it now, some don’t.”

Freund and Brown both said they did their research before signing up to receive the vaccine, which was voluntary.

Freund admitted that she was skeptical at first, but through research, came to the conclusion that the vaccine was safe and effective. 

Brown echoed her.

“I strongly believe this is a step toward overcoming this pandemic,” said Brown. “There are always going to be naysayers and conspiracy theorists. Everyone has the freedom to believe what they want. Not everyone has been adhering to the recommendations of masks, social distancing or extra hand washing either, but any little thing we can do is going to help.”

The hospital employees who were given the shots on Wednesday were asked to hang around for 15 minutes so that they could be monitored for adverse reactions.

Brown said the hospital had to have 10 people ready to get the shot because once a vial is opened, it must be used up within six hours and cannot be refrozen. Each vial contains 10 doses.

A second round of 10 vaccinations are planned sometime this week at the facility.

While Freund was the first hospital employee to get the vaccine, others received shots earlier in the day, courtesy of Big Horn County Public Health. Manager Hillary Mulley said her office administered 60 vaccinations that day, on top of the ones given at Three Rivers. Some of them went to employees at the Wyoming Retirement Center.

Mulley said Tuesday that the first round went well. “We haven’t had anyone with major reactions,” she said. “We did hear a couple say they had minor headaches the next day, but that was it.”

Some “have been a little apprehensive” about getting the shots. “We’re definitely getting more questions asked of us than we do at a typical flu shot clinic

“But we consider that to be a great thing because it means people are wanting to be educated, instead of simply taking the information they see on social media, which can be scary, or just blindly getting it or not getting it because they are concerned or scared.”

Mulley said vaccinations at the North Big Horn Hospital are about to begin, with most planned for either this week or next. 

The shots will continue to be distributed in phases outlined by the Wyoming Department of Health, which took its cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Phase 1a critical populations include persons who have regular potential for exposure to COVID-19 patients;  persons who have regular exposure to people who are potentially positive for COVID 19, or those who are exposed to infectious materials; and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities and residential care facilities for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

When it’s completed, the focus will shift to the Phase 1b, which according to the Wyoming of Department of Health, includes persons 70 years of age or older and frontline essential workers who must interact with the public and are unable to consistently physically distance from others.