County ceases mass COVID vaccination clinics

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
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Volunteer Shelli Schuett directs attendees at the April 30 mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Schuett and other volunteers helped Beaverhead County Public Health staff keep the mass vaccination clinics moving along smoothly. Casey S. Elliott photo

The regular mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics held by Beaverhead County Public Health have been put on hold, though residents can still receive the vaccines by appointment or through Safeway.

Public Health Director Sue Hansen said the almost-weekly clinics, which would vaccinate between 300 to 700 people at a time, are being put on hold due to lack of demand.

“We thought we would have this huge demand all through April once (the vaccine eligibility) opened up, but it didn’t work out that way,” Hansen said last week.

The first mass vaccination clinic was held at the end of January at the University of Montana Western Keltz Arena. Those first few clinics were limited by which age groups were eligible to receive the vaccine, since supply was restricted. As vaccine supply stabilized, more and more people were able to schedule and receive the vaccine when they wanted.

Public health moved the vaccination clinics to the National Guard Armory, with the hope of vaccinating more people. While Keltz Arena was big enough on the inside, the limited parking available made it difficult to bring in more people, Hansen said.

Hansen said she is not sure why demand dropped. Part of it may have been that those who really wanted to get the vaccinations did so early; the limited ability to get the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine may have also been a factor.

“When we finally got the Johnson & Johnson, it was popular. But we never knew when we would get it,” she said, so scheduling those shots was difficult. And then the FDA paused the use of that vaccine to investigate blood clotting side effects. The FDA has since re-authorized the use of the J&J vaccine with a warning about the rare side effect.

“It’s going to take a while to get over the vaccine hesitation because of that pause,” she said. “But I think (demand) for it will grow – it’s super convenient.”

In the five or so months Beaverhead County has been administering COVID-19 vaccines, there have not been any serious reactions, Hansen said. She added she could not have done the mass clinics without the army of volunteers helping out. Volunteers helped get people signed up, get paperwork completed, direct people through the process, and more. Others donated meals for the volunteers and staff working the clinics.

Public health will continue scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations, but they will be held at the office instead of through mass clinics. Hansen said the health department could bring the mass clinics back if demand grows again, or if the vaccines are allowed for younger age groups. Currently, only the Pfizer two-dose vaccine can be used for 16 and 17 year olds.

Public health officials will also work to schedule vaccine clinics in other parts of the county. There have been clinics in both Wisdom and Lima to do first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine. Hansen said she also hopes to take vaccinations to area employers.

“If you can guarantee me 10 people so I’m not wasting a dose, I will do that,” she said.

Residents looking to schedule their vaccination can do so by calling public health at 406-683-3203. Businesses wanting to schedule public health to vaccinate their workplace should call Hansen at 406-683-3179.