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CHI St. Alexius Health Williston prepares for first COVID-19 vaccine shipment

The Williston Herald spoke with CHI’s Pharmacy Director Dave Sandberg regarding CHI’s vaccine distribution plan. The FDA issued an Emergency use Authorization for the Pfizer version of the vaccine, which has already begun distribution. CHI will be utilizing the Moderna COVID vaccine, as it does not require cold-chain storage like the Pfizer vaccine.

Sandberg said CHI should be receiving their first shipment of the vaccine early next week, with vaccinations for direct patient care staff starting as soon as Wednesday, Dec. 23. Vaccines will be distributed throughout CHI’s care sites by CommonSpirit Health.

Two doses of the vaccine, 28 days apart, are needed in order for the Moderna vaccine to be effective. Sandberg noted that federal and state guidance indicates health care workers should be among the first to receive the vaccine in order to ensure health systems are able to continue to provide care through the pandemic and beyond. He added that the general public should begin receiving the vaccine in early spring.

Sandberg said he was optimistic about the vaccine, and planned on taking it himself.

“To me, it gives hope that life will get back to normal,” he said. “We’ll be able to attend sporting events, go out to eat and just gather and get back to somewhat normal life. We’ll still have to wear masks for a little while, but to me it’s very encouraging.”

In trials, both vaccines have been shown to have 94 to 95 percent effectiveness. The COVID-19 vaccine is a Messenger RNA vaccine, meaning it does not contain a live virus and does not carry a risk of causing disease in the vaccinated person. Vaccines like the that for the flu use the live virus to create antibodies within the body. Sandberg noted that the technology to create mRNA vaccines has been studied for decades, and was used previously to create vaccines for Ebola.

“A lot of studies went into this,” Sandberg said. “A lot of great scientists have worked very hard on this at a very fast pace. In my opinion, it’s safe and it’s going to be effective. I’m putting my faith in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine based on the drug trials.”

Sandberg said reactions to the vaccine are fairly mild and are much like those one would experience from the typical flu shot, including fever, fatigue, headache or chills. Studies have indicated that adverse reactions are more common and severe in persons aged 18 to 55 versus those over the age of 55. Sandberg added that reactions are actually your body’s way of telling you the vaccine is working and “kick starting” your immune system.

Some may still be wary about the vaccine, but Sandberg said the important thing to remember is that it is another tool to help battle the virus, and one more step towards returning to normalcy.

“It’s a chance to conquer the disease,” he said. “To take the pressure off the health care system that’s being totally overwhelmed and going to break if we don’t get control of it. We need to vaccinate people to control this pandemic, to start saving lives and getting back to life. To me, it’s hope.”

In the meantime, Sandberg said it is vital that people continue to take precautions, such as masking, hand-washing and social distancing, even after receiving the vaccine. For additional information on the distribution phases from the North Dakota Department of Health, visit