The first doses of a Covid vaccine arrived at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario Tuesday morning. (Saint Alphonsus Medical Center photo)

ONTARIO – The first shipment of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech Covid vaccine arrived at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario Tuesday morning and vaccinations of critical hospital staff are scheduled to begin this week.

“Saint Alphonsus expects to get additional shipments of the vaccine later this week and will receive regular shipments to meet the demand,” said hospital spokesperson Claudia Weathermon Tester.

The Oregon Health Authority announced Monday that the Ontario hospital would be one of the first five medical centers in Oregon to receive the vaccine.

The state said Monday doses of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE vaccine had arrived in Oregon, and were earmarked for facilities in Portland and Tualatin.

Three other locations – Saint Alphonsus in Ontario and the Oregon Health & Science University pharmacy and Kaiser Permanente’s Airport Center, both in Portland, were each set to receive 975 doses of the vaccine, part of a 35,100-dose distribution in Oregon this week.

Tester said distribution of the vaccine – which must be kept frozen – will “be challenging, but not impossible.”

“The Pfizer vaccine can be safely transported in dry ice, and then stored in regular freezers or refrigeration up to five days,” said Weathermon Tester.

She said Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario is working with the Oregon Health Authority on methods to distribute the vaccine in eastern Oregon.

The priority now is to vaccinate frontline medical workers who care for Covid patients.

Weathermon Tester said the Saint Alphonsus Health System began to inoculate frontline healthcare workers in Idaho Monday night.

A second Covid vaccine, made by the bio-tech company Moderna, is likely to be approved for distribution as early as Friday. Wednesday, a data review by Food and Drug Administration scientists concluded the Moderna vaccine is effective and poses no safety issues.

“Once it’s approved for use by the FDA, we expect to receive the Moderna vaccine in eastern Oregon sometime next week,” said Weathermon Tester.

The Malheur County Health Department – the other local agency to secure state approval to distribute the vaccine – still doesn’t know when it will receive the serum, said director Sarah Poe.

“But we are lucky that the hospital is getting so much and we have offered our services,” said Poe.

Meanwhile, the weekly Covid testing sites held across Malheur County this month may be impacting the spread of Covid.

While the local case count remains high – the health department listed 2,627 Covid cases as of Monday – the daily case rate has dropped.

“We only had 85 cases last week so that is down a little bit and at the same time our positivity rate is going down,” said Poe.

Poe also said the testing events held by local school districts and Valley Family Health are driving the total positivity rate down.

“We do know that increased testing, while it finds more cases initially, if people are following isolation and quarantine guidance fewer people are infected,” said Poe.

Last week, the testing events at school district locations and by Valley Family Health discovered 100 positive Covid cases, said Poe.

The testing sites showed people who were asymptomatic, or unaware they were infected with Covid, said Poe. That means, she said, those 100 people – who are now isolated and quarantined – cannot infect others.

That metric, she said, is a crucial as officials work to stop the spread of the infection.

“A lot of people were not infected because those cases were isolated when they were infectious,” said Poe.

 New tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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