As new COVID-19 cases begin to rise again in the state, Montana’s large counties say the COVID vaccine will not be available to those in Phase 1B for at least the next few weeks due to uncertain vaccine supply.
Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said the county is adapting its vaccine plan to match Governor Greg Gianforte’s revisions in a press conference Friday.
Gianforte recently announced changes to the state’s vaccination plan to prioritize the elderly and those with underlying health conditions over frontline essential workers.
Frontline workers, such as first responders and teachers, along with those living in congregate care and correctional facilities, were bumped to Phase 1C, while those between the ages of 16 and 69 with underlying conditions such as cancer and diabetes, along with Montanans over 70 years old were moved up to Phase 1B.
Gallatin Health Officer Kelley said although there were benefits in the original plan, Gallatin County supports the new priorities.
"But I also think it's important that people understand we don't have enough vaccine to go around. So these choices have trade offs. It's completely reasonable and probably smart to think through and to be emphasizing people based on age and their health conditions," Kelley said.
The new plan involves vaccinating approximately a quarter of a million people statewide, as opposed to the original 90,000.
Hospitals across the state are still busy vaccinating medical personnel in Phase 1A.
Zachary Benoit, in community relations at Billings Clinic, says demand is very high but they’re administering the vaccine as fast as possible.
"When we're going at a full clip, we can do about a hundred vaccines an hour. That's obviously if everything's going perfect, we've got everybody lined up. But we've seen it work that efficiently," Benoit said.
Hospitals also began administering second doses last week from a separate allocation.
The Bozeman Health system has vaccinated nearly 1,800 people and gave over 200 second doses last week, while Billings Clinic, after vaccinating 3,300 people, gave 600 second doses. Benefis Health System in Great Falls has given about 1,500 people their first dose and began the second dose vaccinations Jan. 8.
Major hospitals report that while it’s been logistically difficult to set up vaccine distribution and tracking so quickly, the process is going well.
Some parts of Montana did move into their next phase of vaccines last week. The Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes wrapped up health care worker vaccinations and began vaccinating elders in the tribal nations.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America tribal affairs reporter.