Phase 1B vaccinations begin countywide

By 
Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Beaverhead County residents in the next phase eligible for the coronavirus vaccine can sign up to receive it starting this week.

Public health will hold its first vaccination clinic for Phase 1B county residents this Friday; residents must call 406-683-3203 and sign up to get scheduled for vaccination. Public health officials require sign ups because the vaccine requires two doses a set amount of time apart, and they have to ensure none of the doses go to waste.

Phase 1B residents include those age 70 years and older; American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications, and persons between 18-69 with certain high-risk medical conditions. For more information on qualifying conditions, visit https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusvaccine.

New coronavirus cases in the county continue to drop, though Public Health Director Sue Hansen said she fears it is because people are not getting tested when they begin to show symptoms of COVID-19.

“Testing has dropped a lot, and we’re not sure why,” she said at the Jan. 20 public health board meeting. “It’s great that our numbers are down, but I’m not sure that’s representative of what’s going on. I’ve heard that’s happening in other counties as well, that testing is way down.”

As of Tuesday, Beaverhead County listed 13 active cases out of 844 total, or nine new cases over the past week. The new cases were recorded in residents in their teens, 20s, 30s, 60s, 70s and 90s.

Public health board member and city of Dillon Mayor Mike Klakken said he heard some residents are reluctant to test because they fear having everyone they know being forced to quarantine.

“Most I hear are just staying home and limiting their contact,” he said.

Public Health Officer Dr. Megan Evans said residents should get tested if they have symptoms, because that affects whether they need to be quarantined if they test positive in the future.

“If you are sick you should be tested, because you shouldn’t have to re-quarantine for three months,” she said, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued that guidance. “It’s so you don’t have to quarantine over and over if you had it. That’s the benefit of testing.”

General Matt Quinn, executive director of Giaforte’s COVID-19 Task Force, noted they have not seen a dropoff in testing statewide of symptomatic individuals, and he encouraged the public to continue to get tested if they experience virus symptoms.

Hansen said the county is nearly done vaccinating those in Phase 1A (health care workers, nursing home and assisted living facility residents and staff). As of Jan. 20, 88 percent of residents at Pioneer Care and Rehabilitation, and 90 percent of residents at the two Renaissance locations and the Legacy have been vaccinated. Among staff, approximately 65 percent of Pioneer Care staff and fewer than 50 percent of staff at the Renaissance and the Legacy have received the vaccine. She said the vaccine was offered to all residents and staff, though some declined to receive it. Hansen said she did not know the reasons that some declined the vaccine.

Barrett Hospital Chief Clinical Officer Carol Kennedy said the hospital is starting to deliver second vaccine doses to staff, and they are working out the logistics for providing the vaccine to larger groups of people.

“The goal is to get everything we receive into patients’ arms as fast as possible,” she said.

Future clinics for Phase 1B recipients are scheduled for Feb. 5 and Feb. 12; the clinics will be held at the University of Montana Western arena. Hansen said staff are hoping to have rural vaccination clinics as well, but has not yet worked through the logistics of those at this time.

“It’s complex – this isn’t like a flu shot clinic. The vials are frozen, and it’s a fragile vaccine,” Hansen said. “Once you puncture the vial, you have six hours to do those 10 doses. You have to make sure you have 10 people.”

Hansen added if some people do not show up for their appointment, the vaccination can be given to anyone available.

“That has happened – it is better to get (the vaccine) in someone and protect them than to waste it,” she said.

The state updated its COVID-19 informational website this week. It now provides weekly updates on vaccination progress in each county. As of Monday, Beaverhead County has fully immunized (two doses) 83 people out of 626 doses administered. Statewide, 14,704 Montanans were fully immunized out of 77,739 total doses administered.

Gov. Greg Gianforte said he believed vaccination acceptance is strong among healthcare professionals in a press conference last week. His team has heard some declined vaccination because of wanting more vulnerable residents to get the vaccine first. Gianforte added he thinks general uptake of the vaccine will be similar to the annual influenza vaccine, or around 50 percent; and he expects more people will get vaccinated once they see their friends and neighbors get it and not have serious side effects.

As of Tuesday, the state tallied 2,296 new cases over the past week and 92 deaths, for a total of 92,160 cases and 1,185 deaths. That is fewer new cases but more than double the number of deaths counted compared to the prior week. Over 25.1 million cases and more than 419,800 deaths were recorded nationwide as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.

Phase 1B COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics

Beaverhead County residents in Phase 1B can begin seeking vaccination starting Friday.

Phase 1B includes persons age 70 years and older; American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications; and persons age 18-69 with certain high-risk medical conditions (specific conditions can be found at https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/diseases/coronavirusvaccine).

Clinics are scheduled for 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 29, Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 at the University of Montana Western arena. Those interested in vaccination should call and schedule their appointment at 406-683-3203.