Montana Public Radio

Montana Veterans Affairs Health Care System

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.

Former Army Tank Mechanic Robert Boore, 77, gets his COVID-19 vaccine at the VA’s mass vaccination clinic in Kalispell February 3, 2021. The VA vaccinated 400 veterans 75 years old and up, as well as those with select underlying health conditions.
Aaron Bolton / Montana Public Radio

Four hundred veterans got COVID-19 vaccine doses last week in Kalispell. The Montana VA Health Care System is standing up temporary clinics to get shots to vets in rural areas. But amid the nationwide vaccine shortage, some vets are confused about the process and are looking outside of the VA to get a shot.

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.

Vaccine stock photo.
(PD)

Montana health Officials held a meeting Tuesday with various stakeholders on their plan to distribute forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines.

Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton listened in on that meeting and he joins us now to walk us through what we know and don’t know, at this point about vaccination distribution plans in Montana. 

Personal information of 1,501 veterans in Montana may have been accessed during a data breach involving files from the Montana VA Health Care System earlier this year.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) announced the breach on July 23, after being notified by the former company contacted to maintain the data June 4.

A May investigation concluded VHA files may have been among those accessed and-or acquired between April 20 and 30 by an unauthorized actor. Full name, social security number and facility are among the information that may have been accessed.

The Montana Veterans Health Care System is offering free COVID-19 testing to veterans. In a press release, the agency said Montana Veterans enrolled in the Veterans Affairs Health Care System can get testing at thirteen locations across the state over the next two weeks.