Fallon County and the rest of the state are providing vaccinations for the COVID-19 pandemic following a phased system with first responders, healthcare workers and long-term care residents in the first group.
Members of the second group are scheduled to be receiving vaccinations in mid to late January.
In late December, then-Gov. Steve Bullock announced the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan had been updated to incorporate the new federal recommendations for allocation to critical groups in Montana and an estimated timeline.
“As the first phase of Montana’s COVID-19 vaccination plan is fully under way, it’s inspiring to see that thousands of health care workers have already been vaccinated and that it’s now reaching staff and residents of long-term care facilities,” Gov. Bullock said in a release. “As we continue to focus on vaccinating those most vulnerable to this virus, it is incumbent on all of us to keep our friends, neighbors, and loved ones safe as we inch toward the widespread distribution of the vaccine.”
The updated plan outlines an estimated timeline for vaccine distribution in Phases 1a, 1b, 1c and then the last phase (Phase 2).
Vaccines are expected to be available to all Montanans late spring or early summer 2021. The timeline covers from December 2020 through July 2021 and lists which groups are recommended to receive the vaccine in each phase.
Montana has launched Phase 1a that targets front line healthcare workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. The first phase was expanded to include additional healthcare workers with direct patient contact, such as dentists, orthodontists, physical therapists, optometrists, home health workers and others that fit the criteria.
The plan states that Phase 1b scheduled to begin in mid-January and continue through March. Phase 1b includes an estimated 90,000 Montanans, such as persons aged 75 years old or older, frontline essential workers, those residing in congregate care and correctional facilities, and American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19.
Phase 1c is expected to launch in mid-March and continue through July and includes another 171,000 Montanans. Critical groups in Phase 1c are those aged 65 years and older, people aged 16-64 at high risk due to underlying medical conditions, and essential workers.
The final phase is expected to launch in late spring or early summer for all Montanans ages 16 and older.
“It’s important to highlight that expansion to additional groups in Phase 1a and phases later on will vary from community to community depending on vaccine availability and how quickly the vaccines are distributed,” said Bekki Wehner of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau. “DPHHS is working with local health jurisdictions to monitor vaccine supplies around the state to ensure availability for each target group. As vaccine supplies increase, we’ll be able to allocate them to more and more providers in the coming weeks and months.”
DPHHS is guided by vaccine priority recommendations from the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that recently released new expanded guidelines for vaccine allocation to additional critical populations. These recommendations are supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and they have now been communicated to local health jurisdictions.
While Montana is guided by the ACIP recommendations, the updated distribution plan takes into account prioritizing several congregate settings not included in the ACIP recommendations, such as individuals residing in congregate care, correctional facilities, and American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications.
Vaccine shipments enter Montana through state and federal allocations.
DPHHS has enrolled 200 providers to receive and administer vaccines. Montana will be able to fully utilize this network once vaccines become more readily available.
Vaccinations are also occurring through the federal allocation to the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Veterans’ Administration. Tribal entities were given the opportunity to either receive their allocation through federal or state channels. This includes tribal governments, Urban Indian Health Centers and IHS sites. In Montana, 5 of 8 tribal governments, all five Urban Indian Health Centers and all the IHS sites chose to get their allocation from the IHS.