County COVID vaccinations off to a good start

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
A shot in the arm

It’s hard to tell, but Merry Lee Hooks, left, is smiling under that mask as she receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday. Public health nurse Karen Larche provides the shot. Hooks and her husband, David, both seemed relieved to be getting the first of two doses of the vaccine. Casey S. Elliott photo

COVID image

Beaverhead County’s first jab at vaccinating specific groups against COVID-19 is going well, county public health officials say.

Public Health Director Sue Hansen said 259 doses of the coronavirus vaccine were administered at the first Phase 1B vaccination clinic Friday. Eighteen second doses were administered as well, and some of the vials had extra doses which allowed medical staff to vaccinate even more people.

“I think the clinic went pretty well,” she said, and they had “ample opportunity” to give at least 500 doses if there was enough vaccine allocated.

The two remaining currently-scheduled clinics – Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 – were completely filled by appointments prior to the first clinic last week.

The largest group of vaccinations went to residents in the 70-79 age group (111 vaccines), Hansen said. Residents who received vaccines at the clinic ranged in age from 18 to 98.

Public health and state officials are struggling to get more vaccines delivered. Gov. Greg Gianforte expressed his frustration in the small deliveries statewide, despite public health’s ability to get those doses out quickly.

“Montana is receiving one of the lowest weekly allotments of vaccines per capita,” he said. “According to CDC data, Montana is 45th of the 50 states in terms of the number of vaccines per capita the federal government is sending. This needs to change.”

As of Tuesday, over 110,300 vaccine doses have been administered, and 27,506 Montana residents have been “fully immunized” – meaning they received both doses of vaccine, according to state of Montana data. That data does not include separate vaccinations conducted by federal health partners such as Indian Health Services and Veterans Affairs. In Beaverhead County, 1,117 doses were administered and 211 residents fully immunized as of Tuesday.

State of Montana officials said they have not determined why Montana is receiving so few doses.

“We’re not sure how the federal government is coming up with the allocations per state,” COVID-19 Task Force Executive Director Gen. Matt Quinn said.

State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said the state received 13,525 doses of vaccine last week, and is anticipated to receive 15,625 first doses and 6,300 second doses this week. While that is an increase, medical officials continue to push for more doses. The state always orders the maximum number of doses available, he said.

Holzman said he is also encouraged by the latest vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to get an emergency use authorization soon. That vaccine is a single-dose version.

“This is another wonderful thing to add to our toolbox,” Holzman said. “Whichever vaccine is available when they get to my group, I’ll get that vaccine.”

Holzman reminded residents to continue to wash their hands, wear masks and maintain social distancing, as it will take some time to get enough people vaccinated to make a difference in the ability to transmit the virus. Those efforts are reflected in the decline in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide.

New coronavirus-positive cases continue to decline both state- and countywide. Beaverhead County added eight cases over the past week; the county had five active cases and 852 total cases as of Tuesday. Maskwearing will still be required regardless of the number of active cases in specific counties according to Gianforte’s mask directive.

The state added 2,224 new cases and 64 deaths in the past week, counting 94,384 total cases and 1,249 deaths as of Tuesday.

There are over 26 million total cases and more than 439,900 deaths tallied nationwide as of Monday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).