COVID vaccinations begin

Ely hospital distributes 30 doses Monday with more to come

by Tom Coombe
The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Ely.
As part of a nationwide effort to combat the virus, about 30 doses were distributed Monday to employees of Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital and the Ely Area Ambulance Service.
Another 25 workers were to get shots Wednesday, with health care employees at the front of the line to receive a vaccine that only earlier this month was approved for emergency distribution.
The Ely hospital is coordinating the vaccinations of its staff and ambulance employees from Ely, Babbitt and Tower, while local clinic provider Essentia is coordinating vaccinations for its staff.
Ely’s nursing home and congregate care facilities are also set for vaccinations in the early stages of an operations that could result in the distribution of millions of doses by mid-2021.
Rebecca Holmstrom, chief nursing officer at EBCH, said those who received shots this week will get a second dose in another three weeks.
“We will get a second round, but we’re not sure how many that will be, that’s yet to be decided,” Holmstrom said Tuesday. “It’s kind of ever changing. We’ll get notified once it comes, and how we get it allocated, we get it from Hibbing through Fairview (Medical Center).”
EBCH’s Tiffany Zemke described a “time sensitive procedure” that led to the vaccinations.
“We didn’t get final details until Friday,” she said. “˙This new round of vaccines we’ll hopefully get next week. We’re estimating for our staff another 30, but that could change.”
Holmstrom added that “the second dose would go to the rest of our employees and ambulance (staff). We’ve asked all of our employees who would want it.”
While health care employees part of the “Tier 1A” group getting top priority, the vaccinations are voluntary for EBCH employees and ambulance staff.
The EBCH staff received the highly-publicized Pfizer vaccine which required special care including storage at cold temperatures.
The hospital kept the vaccines in a special storage container and had five days to administer the doses.
“They do have it GPSd,” said Zemke. “So they do know if it goes above or below temperaturs. It’s really monitored.”
Zemke said that nursing home residents were likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna, the second of two vaccines approved for distribution and developed within several months of the onset of the pandemic.
Holmstrom said that at least for now, EBCH has no information about when the vaccine will be available for distribution to the general public.
The vaccine came to Ely with a local connection of sorts.
Stefanie Niskala, the wife of Ely native Jeremy Niskala and Zemke’s sister-in-law, is named on the patent of the vaccine that came to Ely.
“When she did her PhD research that was focused on developing and discovering, and a lot of her dissertation was protected in the patent used to produce the newest technology used in the fight against COVID,” said Zemke.
The vaccinations come after a November spike, both locally and across Minnesota, in COVID-19 cases, hospitalization and deaths.
That spike has waned, with active cases in Minnesota plummeting by more than 60 percent from Nov. 20 to Dec. 21.
In the Ely area, only three new cases were recorded from Dec. 10-17 and 10 from Dec. 4-17. From Nov. 14-27, there were 57new cases among Ely area residents.
“We’re kind of the same as the rest of the area,” said Holmstrom. “Things have calmed down. Things have calmed down in Duluth but they’re still busy. But you can see that reflection in all the numbers statewide fore sure. We did not experience the after-Thanksgiving surge.”