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From right, pharmacist Jeff Rusk prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, inside the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The VA administered 350 doses on Saturday to bring the total number of vaccines administered to 2,050, with 370 people already receiving their second dose from the VA. Michael Cummo/ Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – About two months removed from the first COVID-19 vaccinations in Wyoming, public health efforts are ongoing across the state to get priority populations inoculated against the novel coronavirus.

Leading the way has been Laramie County, Wyoming’s most populated county, where health officials administered the first COVID-19 vaccine to a Wyoming resident in mid-December. As of Tuesday, roughly 10,700 of the county’s nearly 100,000 residents had received their first dose of the vaccine. Nearly a third of those who received their first vaccine dose – about 3,100 – have also received their second dose.

Kathy Emmons, executive director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, noted Tuesday that the county has actually administered roughly 110% of the doses originally allocated to it.

“The reason for that is that we’ve received 9,725 doses, but because we were able to pull the sixth and sometimes seventh dose out of a vial of five, we have already administered 10,698,” Emmons said during a Cheyenne-Laramie County Board of Health meeting Tuesday. “So that puts us ... number one in the state.”

Across Wyoming, roughly 70,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered, along with approximately 27,900 second doses.

With about 12% of the state’s residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine, the pace of Wyoming’s rollout is largely in line with national averages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 39.7 million Americans have gotten at least one dose of an approved vaccine.

In total, Laramie County is slated to received about 5,400 vaccines during February, which would be up about 1,500 from its January shipments, according to figures from the Wyoming Department of Health. During the local health board’s meeting, Emmons said she expects about 400 more doses of the Moderna vaccine to come to Laramie County this week than it had previously received.

“The other significant change in the community is that both Walmarts will now start getting a direct shipment from the national pharmacy (vaccination) program, so that’ll put 400 to 600 more doses into the community,” Emmons said, adding that health officials from her department have met weekly with representatives from pharmacies, walk-in clinics and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to discuss who can take more doses.

The timeline for when more Wyomingites will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine remains murky.

Counties remain at phase 1b of their rollouts, meaning people who are 65 and older, teachers, front-line retail workers and those with certain medical conditions are eligible for vaccinations. In a news release last Friday, the Wyoming Department of Health said the state’s counties likely won’t begin vaccinating phase 1c priority groups “until later in the year.”

“While overall available vaccine dose amounts remain low right now compared to high demand, we are seeing modest, continued increases in shipments we receive from the federal government of the authorized vaccines, as well as more partners and providers coming on board,” Angie Van Houten, head of the department’s community health section, said in a statement.

When more supply arrives in Laramie County, health officials will likely set up vaccination clinics in the community, though plans for that have yet to be finalized.

“Once we hit saturation with that (phase 1b) group and the numbers increase significantly, we’ll look at doing bigger clinics. But for right now, (our strategy) is working very well,” Emmons said.

Once the vaccines are offered on a broader scale, the next question will be how many Wyomingites plan to get inoculated.

A survey released last week suggests at least some in the state will be unwilling to receive the vaccine. The survey, released last Friday by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming, found about 38% of its respondents were somewhat or very unlikely to get the vaccine. Of those who said they probably wouldn’t get the vaccine, nearly three-quarters of them listed concerns about the vaccine’s side effects as a major reason for their hesitations.

Case numbers “down significantly”

While some in the public await a chance to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the local presence of the virus has continued to diminish, though that shouldn’t be a reason for residents to let their guard down, Emmons said Tuesday.

Laramie County had 66 active cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, continuing a substantial decline from the record highs of active cases in late November and early December 2020.

The county’s positive rate, or the percentage of COVID-19 tests in the past two weeks that came back positive, has also dipped considerably. After reaching a high of nearly 15% in early December, the positivity rate was at 1.75% on Tuesday, which Emmons was enthusiastic about.

“The goal was to be under 2%, so we’re thrilled that we’re down to that,” Emmons said during the board meeting.

Despite the good news, Emmons warned the trends present “a double-edged sword” that could cause some residents to stop taking the necessary precautions against the spread of COVID-19. In a release last week, Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist encouraged Wyomingites to maintain the recommended precautionary measures of wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and staying home when sick.

“We are not there yet, but we are on the path back to normal, and every day we get closer,” Harrist said in a statement.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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