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Avera holds first COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Mitchell over the weekend

Avera Queen of Peace hospital distributed COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday to frontline healthcare workers at highest risk of exposure

Registered Nurse Kristi Riggs injects the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28, 2020, into the arm of Hilary Rockwell, emergency physician at Avera Queen of Peace, during the vaccine clinic in Mitchell. (Photo courtesy of Avera Health)

After 10 months of battling COVID-19 on the front lines, local healthcare workers began receiving injections of hope on Saturday.

Over the weekend, Avera Queen of Peace hospital in Mitchell held its first COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Among the first to receive the vaccine during Saturday’s clinic were the frontline healthcare workers who are caring for the “sickest” patients in the Mitchell area, which includes emergency medicine professionals, long-term care staff, intensive care and COVID-19 unit professionals deemed to be at the highest of exposure.

“We at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital are grateful that the vaccine is here and we can begin the lifesaving work of administering vaccines. While the vaccine won’t be available to everyone right away, please be assured that we will keep you informed. We recommend that people get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them,” said Interim Avera Queen of Peace Hospital Regional President and CEO Doug Ekeren.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved two COVID-19 vaccinations for emergency use. Moderna and Pfizer are the manufacturers of the two vaccines that are now being distributed in South Dakota. The vaccines involve two separate doses with varying days in between the final dose.

According to a press release, Moderna’s vaccine was distributed and administered at Avera Queen of Peace’s clinic on Saturday. FDA scientists have found both Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccines to be roughly 95% effective against the virus.


David Basel, vice president of Avera Medical Group Quality, expressed his confidence in the process of both manufacturers developing a safe and effective vaccine.

“A safe and effective vaccine is a vital step toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Avera and state health experts have monitored the vaccine’s progress and the data from the clinical studies and are confident in its safety and effectiveness,” Bassel said, noting the more people who receive the vaccine will increase the likelihood of “getting back to normal.”

According to the state Department of Health, more than 9,700 South Dakota residents had received the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, Dec. 24. Of the two vaccinations that have been approved, Pfizer's vaccine has been administered to a little over 9,000 South Dakotans, while roughly 500 have received the Moderna vaccine.

According to Avera Health officials, the next group of people in line to receive the vaccine are long-term care residents. Following the long-term residents, people will receive the vaccine based on their risk factors, which includes people aged 65 or older and people with chronic medical conditions. In addition, individuals with cancer, COPD, kidney disease, heart conditions, immunocompromised and diabetes are also considered to have higher risk factors that warrant a vaccine earlier than those without any medical conditions.

Hilary Rockwell, emergency physician at Avera Queen of Peace, was among the healthcare professionals who received the vaccine on Saturday. Rockwell said the vaccination’s arrival signals a “path out of the pandemic.”

“This is a great day!” said Dr. Hilary Rockwell, an ER physician who also serves as the chief medical officer at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital, after getting her first shot. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to get this vaccine.”

At the recent Mitchell City Council meeting, Rockwell said about 60% of the Mitchell community would need to receive the vaccine to better quell the virus.

Due to limited supply of the vaccine, Avera Health officials say not everyone will be able to get vaccinated right away. Healthy adults without risk factors may not receive the vaccine until this spring, according to Avera Health officials. At this time, Avera cannot predict a time frame beyond the first several weeks.


“Avera has taken many steps to ensure we are ethical, fair and equitable in our distribution of the vaccine. Our ultimate goal is to play our part in ending this pandemic by vaccinating as many individuals against COVID-19 as we can,” Ekeren said.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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