VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Washington’s first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine could start being administered in a matter of days.

The state selected PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver as a staging area for the vaccine and healthcare workers are expected to be the first to receive it.

PeaceHealth Columbia Network officials discussed the vaccine, the rise of COVID-19 infections in Southwest Washington and hospital capacity during a virtual press briefing on Wednesday morning.

Dr. Lawrence Neville, the chief medical officer at PeaceHealth Columbia Network, said the first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine could arrive in just days once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives the green light. Neville said the Moderna vaccine may come a week after that.

While the vaccine won’t be mandatory for healthcare workers, Neville expects most will get it. Administration of the vaccine will likely be staggered since clinical trials have shown 75% of people develop mild side effects.

PeaceHealth will then work to make sure emergency first responders are protected next before moving on to the general public.

“For the first time with the vaccine there is a light before us — probably we won’t have enough vaccines to bring to its full power, full illumination for six to 12 months — but there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Neville said. “We don’t know yet how long a vaccine will convey immunity but it looks very promising.”

Washington currently reports 187,327 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,967 deaths.

PeaceHealth was caring for 27 COVID patients on Wednesday, five of whom were in the ICU. It’s a sizable decrease from the 42 COVID patients at the hospital a week ago. PeaceHealth workers were taking advantage of the respite as they expected to soon see a wave of new patients.

“The reason for that is related to Thanksgiving and probably folks not being careful over Thanksgiving,” explained Neville. He pointed to rising numbers of cases in Cowlitz County where the rate of new infections has increased to 29.6 for every 100,000 people. Clark County has seen a slight decrease in that figure but Neville said it remained “high at 36.1%.”

Christmas is just over two weeks away. Health authorities continue to encourage people to limit their gatherings this holiday season to slow the spread of the virus.

“It’s not a great gift to give to Grandma and Grandpa COVID,” said Neville. “Please hear me on this and I am struggling with you and everyone at PeaceHealth with exactly the same desires to have this behind us.”

On Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a 3-week extension of COVID-19 restrictions on dining and gatherings. The restrictions had previously been scheduled to end on December 14, but will now be in place until January 4.

Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown joined Inslee at the press briefing to detail the spiraling situation with the pandemic and the state’s response. The two of them announced an additional $50 million in state grants and loans will be available for small businesses.