Montana Public Radio

Lori Fitzgerald

To Vaccinate Veterans, Health Care Workers Must Cross Mountains, Plains And Tundra

Feb 22, 2021
A vaccination team bound for Havre, Montana, loads supplies for the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine into a Learjet 31 at Helena Regional Airport. Also on board were six Veterans Affairs providers tasked with inoculating rural veterans with the covid-19 vaccine.
David Hicks / Kaiser Health News

A Learjet 31 took off before daybreak from Helena Regional Airport in Montana, carrying six Veterans Affairs medical providers and 250 doses of historic cargo cradled in a plug-in cooler designed to minimize breakage.

Even in a state where 80-mph speed limits are normal, ground transportation across long distances is risky for the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine, which must be used within 12 hours of thawing.

The Montana Veterans Affairs Health Care system is leading a national pilot program to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to rural veterans.

The Montana VA spent the past two and a half weeks planning the delivery trip to Havre and making a blueprint for getting the vaccine into rural areas. Their plan will be used by other states with similar geographical challenges in the coming weeks. Montana VA Chief of Pharmacy Lori Fitzgerald says Thursday's clinic went well.