Simplified: Remember the "I'm Just a Bill" song from Schoolhouse Rock? This is like that, but for vaccines. It's a look inside how thousands of vaccine doses are moving from FedEx boxes to the arms of Sioux Falls residents.

Why it matters

  • Vaccine distribution is ramping up at the national level with President Joe Biden promising all Americans will be eligible to receive a shot by May 1.
  • South Dakota has been ahead of the curve when it comes to vaccine rollout, and health officials largely attribute that to cooperation between the state's major health systems.
  • Medical professionals have said it before, and they'll say it again: Vaccines are essential if we hope to get life back to normal.
"The only way out of this is through the vaccine," Avera spokesperson Michelle Pellman said.

How do vaccines get distributed

It starts with vials in a FedEx box. ("I'm just a vial, yes, I'm only a vial...")

Each week, state officials learn how many doses they'll receive from the federal government. Those doses then have to be doled out between the three major health systems: Sanford, Avera and Monument, who are overseeing distribution efforts.

The vaccines are shipped directly to pharmacies, where they're divvied up as needed and stored according to requirements, with Pfizer needing the coldest storage.

Then, as appointments are set each day, vials are transported in insulated boxes to clinics, where they're stored temporarily in fridges – the one at the 59th Street Avera clinic looks like a dorm fridge with a lock – and then dosed out in syringes, where they can be kept for 30 minutes to an hour before they need to be in someone's arm, according to Avera pharmacist Amanda Kuhn.

What happens when I get to my appointment?

The layout of clinics vary, and setups have changed over time, but you can expect to start with a temperature screening and the typical questions about COVID-19 symptoms and exposure.

You may have a form to fill out, and you may be asked about your medical history.

If it's your first dose, you'll likely be asked to schedule your second one, and after the shot, you'll have to wait for about 15 minutes to make sure you don't have any immediate side effects.

Your vaccination will also be recorded with the state health department.

What happens if someone misses an appointment?

The most important thing is that no doses are wasted, said Andrea Polkinghorn, immunization strategy leader for Sanford Health.

"There's still a ton of people to vaccinate, so we're trying to find them through patient waitlists," she said.

No doses have been wasted at either Sanford or Avera, but officials say it can be a stressful situation to find people, especially if it's nearing the end of the day and there are doses leftover.

How will I know it's my turn for an appointment?

Likely, your health care provider will tell you. But you can also keep an eye on eligibility through the state Department of Health.

This resource has all the vaccine info you need.