Montana Public Radio

Is Montana Getting Its Fair Share Of COVID-19 Vaccines?

Mar 2, 2021

Political figures in the state have said over the last month that Montana isn’t getting its fair share of COVID-19 vaccines. 

"I still think we’re owed more vaccinations," Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a press conference this week. 

Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton dug into those claims and shared his reporting with MTPR’s News Director Corin Cates-Carney. 

Corin Cates-Carney: Aaron what did you find about whether or not Montana is getting its fair share of vaccines?

Aaron Bolton: I spoke about this with Jen Kates, who is the director of global health policy and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation

"If you look at allocations, you add up all the doses that have been allocated, Pfizer and Moderna, the per-capita allocation is not that different, actually, across the country," Kates said.

The per-capita comparison Kates was talking about is based on adult populations in each state, as that’s how the federal government comes up with its allocations. 

We crunched the numbers. If we remove Alaska, because it is a really big outlier, and compare the per-capita allocations across the other 49 states, you get a range spanning about 7,000 shots per 100,000 adults. Montana is in the middle of that pack. 

Kates says it makes sense that there’s some variation in how many states receive because the government is dealing with a complicated supply puzzle. For example, boxes of Pfizer have 195 vials in them, but each vial has six doses. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services isn’t splitting up boxes of Pfizer so it has to find ways to divvy up the supply it has as evenly as it can. It’s not like it can split supply down to the dose. 

Corin Cates-Carney: Aaron, Gianforte still says Montana is owed more vaccines. What is his argument?

COVID-19 Vaccines Delivered Per 100,000 People as of March 2, 2021.
Credit Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations

Aaron Bolton: When I reached out to Gianforte’s office and officials in the state health department after they first made this claim two weeks ago, they told me they were basing the fair share claim on the per-capita number of vaccines delivered to Montana compared to other states. 

Corin Cates-Carney: But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has told you this isn’t a fair way to compare states. Why not?

Aaron Bolton: These numbers are not a fair comparison because vaccine deliveries are changing daily. HHS, like Kates with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says you need to look at how many each state can order from the federal government, because that’s a stationary number that gets updated once a week. and you can see those allocations online.

Corin Cates-Carney: So, Montana is in the middle of the pack on allocations per adult per capita. What does the state make of this? 

Aaron Bolton: When I talked to the head of the state’s COVID-19 task force, General Matt Quinn, I was told that every shot counts and that the per-capita difference between Montana and states higher on that list still amounts to thousands of real shots. 

Corin Cates-Carney: Thanks for breaking that down.

Aaron Bolton: Sure thing.