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UW Employees Among First to Receive COVID Vaccine; More Coming Soon

December 23, 2020
man in scrubs, face mask and face shield getting a vaccine
Dr. Evan Norby, program director for the UW Cheyenne Family Medicine Residency Program, receives his COVID-19 vaccination late last week. He was one of the first health care workers in Wyoming to receive the Pfizer vaccine. (UW Photo)

As shipments of the first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines began arriving in Wyoming last week, health care workers at the University of Wyoming’s two clinic/residency programs in Cheyenne and Casper were among the first in line to receive their shots.

Other UW employees in front-line health care jobs will soon join them, followed by other employees in high-risk categories. Eventually, COVID-19 vaccinations are expected to be available to all employees and students, in accordance with priorities established by the Wyoming Department of Health.

Both the Cheyenne and Casper Family Medicine Residency programs, part of the UW College of Health Sciences, began administering the first of two Pfizer doses to their residents and faculty physicians Thursday, thus beginning what many might describe as “finally turning the corner” in the nearly yearlong battle against the novel coronavirus.

Cheyenne program director and physician faculty member Dr. Evan Norby was one of the first health care workers in the state to receive the vaccine. In a text message to Dr. Beth Robitaille, chief medical officer over both clinics, Norby said, “Got my first shot today … So far is less sore than a flu shot.”

Doses of both the Pfizer and newly approved Moderna vaccines are expected to arrive soon in Albany County for administration to front-line health care providers. UW officials are working with Albany County Public Health to identify university employees who fit in those categories, as well as to make UW resources available to administer the vaccine to all county residents who qualify.

In Laramie and Natrona counties, local officials made it quick, easy and efficient to receive the vaccine, says Robitaille, who is based in Casper.

“Everyone was kind and professional, and there was such a positive and exciting air to the experience,” she says. “It feels so good to be able to finally do something positive that will help us turn the corner.”

Robitaille points out the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are “95 percent effective and represent an incredible achievement in modern science -- not just the quickness of the development and the efficacy, but that it is a new and safe type of vaccine, mRNA, that has probably revolutionized how we will develop many vaccines in the future.”

“Vaccination is not just about individual health and safety, but it also is about the public’s health,” Robitaille says. “Health care professionals receive vaccines not just to protect themselves so that they can stay healthy to continue to take care of patients, but also to keep their family, patients and the community safe and healthy.” 

UW has identified about 230 employees who qualify for vaccination under the first phase of state Department of Health priorities, and they will be notified individually when and where to receive the vaccine -- expected in coming weeks. The list includes Student Health Service employees; those involved in UW’s COVID-19 testing program; clinical providers in the College of Health Sciences; Student Affairs and UW Operations employees who work with students in quarantine and isolation; UW Police Department employees; and athletics trainers.

While the exact timing of those and subsequent vaccinations has not yet been determined, the university and Albany County Public Health expect to soon have further information regarding vaccine availability for members of the UW community in Laramie, as well as all residents of the county. Information also will be provided to UW employees in counties around the state.

“Achieving herd immunity of 70-80 percent is needed for our communities to return to a more normal routine, and it will require a team effort by everyone in our communities to participate in the proven techniques that will help us get there,” Robitaille says. “Up until now, it has been following the guidelines of masking, social distancing, etc., and now we have a new easy tool of vaccination. I hope everyone takes advantage of this opportunity to help be a part of the solution.”

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