CHARLES TOWN – Hospital workers, emergency first responders, and nursing home residents and staff in the Eastern Panhandle should soon begin to receive coronavirus vaccines delivered this week to the Eastern Panhandle.

About 1,650 vaccine doses have been delivered to WVU Medicine’s Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg, and Valley Health System received nearly 3,000 doses for its medical facilities operating in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

West Virginia is on track to soon receive its first shipments of more than 16,000 doses of a Pfizer vaccine being distributed to 19 medical facilities across the state. Vaccine developer Moderna is also expected to receive federal approval soon and begin sending its own inoculations to the Mountain State.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require follow-up booster shots to be fully effective.

Dr. Terrence Reidy, the chief medical officer for the Jefferson County Health Department, said for the next month, residents will have to avoid getting or spreading COVID-19 before vaccinations become commonly available to the general public. “By the end of January we’ll probably be expanding to the next general population,” he said.

Health officials must follow strict protocols to distribute the vaccines because they were given expedited emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The special protocols will affect how fast the rollout of the vaccines can occur first to essential workers and then to the general public, he said.

The Pfizer vaccine, for example, must be stored at an ultra-cold temperature of minus-70 degrees Fahrenheit, creating logistical challenges of its own.

The West Virginia National Guard has been assigned the job of distributing the vaccines to medical facilities across the state.

Working out logistical processes of storing, cataloging, administering and tracking the vaccines efficiently will take time as well, Reidy said. “A lot of [the vaccine distributions are] going to be following the procedures,” he said. “There are a lot of different steps. ... Going through the steps will be a little bit slower at first until we get it down.”

Reidy said retired nurses who could possibly return to work to assist during a severe surge of coronavirus hospitalizations are among the medical professionals who would receive an early vaccine before the general public. Those medical workers should contact the county health department to register for an early inoculation, he said.

The general public could begin to have common access to a coronavirus vaccine this spring or summer, Reidy said. Several drug companies are developing vaccines that could become available over the next few weeks and months as well.

West Virginia is expected to obtain about 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the next several weeks, according to state health officials.

Because all of the coronavirus vaccines being developed now will lack a track record, Reidy said how effective each inoculation will be and for how long will only be fully known over time.

The vaccines should be considered safe for almost everyone, Reidy said. But the potential different side effects that the different vaccines might cause, including possible severe side effects in rare cases, will also be known only over time, he added.

 “There are a lot of questions of side effects,” he said. “It’s going to take many, many months to even compare one [vaccine] against another.”

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