Skagit County received its first doses Thursday of the first approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Skagit Regional Health spokesperson Caitlin Svendsen said the health care provider received the first shipment to Skagit County — 975 doses. The vaccines were placed in cold storage ahead of the first inoculations, which are scheduled for Monday.

High-risk health care workers, and residents and employees of long-term care facilities — an estimated 500,000 people statewide — are in Phase 1A of the state’s distribution plan, according to a news release from the state Department of Health.

“The vaccine is a minor miracle that we are about to administer. We are looking forward to keeping our staff safe so they are here to care for you,” said Dr. Connie Davis, Skagit Regional Health’s chief medical officer. “We want to keep our commitment to take care of your health care needs and this will allow us to do so more dependably in our current pandemic environment.”

Svendsen said Skagit Regional Health has about 2,600 employees who fit the Phase 1A criteria, and will be using these first doses to inoculate those staff members who are at highest risk.

“Our initial focus is to offer vaccine to all staff within Phase 1A to ensure our teams are able to provide ongoing care for the greater community,” she said.

As for why vaccinations can’t start immediately, Svendsen said Skagit Regional Health had little time to prepare for delivery of the vaccine.

Before vaccinations can begin, Skagit Regional Health is required to build a data management system to handle vaccination data and report it to the state, as well as learn how to properly handle the vaccine, so waiting until Monday will ensure those details are in place.

“The logistics of thawing and transporting the vaccine are complicated and new,” Svendsen said. “We were given less than 24 hours notice as to when the vaccine would arrive.”

The vaccine requires two doses given three weeks apart to be fully effective. Svendsen said the second dose is shipped automatically when the first dose is administered.

Statewide, 62,400 doses of the newly-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were on track to arrive this week at 17 vaccination sites in 13 counties. As more doses become available, the state Department of Health will begin sharing details on how the broader community can get inoculated.

Laura Han, spokesperson for Skagit County, said the county doesn’t yet know when more doses of the vaccine will arrive.

In a tweet Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee indicated the state will receive about 40% fewer doses next week than it did in the initial distribution. Other states are seeing similar cuts, and no explanation was provided, he said.

A federal advisory board reviewed a second vaccine candidate Thursday, from Moderna, recommending approval of an Emergency Use Authorization to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to reporting from the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, data on new COVID-19 infections in the county has been incorrect in recent days, due to an issue between the county’s primary testing provider and the state’s reporting system.

While the last three days have shown single-digit increases of new cases, Han said the data is incomplete and many of the county’s new positives aren’t being reported.

As of Wednesday evening, 2,579 county residents have tested positive since the start of the pandemic, according to county data.

Han said a large jump is expected in the coming days, when the data discrepancy is corrected.

Seven more residents on Wednesday were reported to have been hospitalized, bringing the total to 171 since the start of the pandemic. Thirty-one people have died.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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