State distribution plan details vaccine rollout

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | January 5, 2021 7:00 AM

As Montana rounds into the new year, state and local officials are focused on transitioning into the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan after nearly 17,000 high-risk health-care personnel received their first doses of the vaccine in December.

The state recently released an updated plan that provides an estimated timeline for distribution during Phases 1a, 1b, 1c and the final leg, Phase 2. According to the plan, which stretches December 2020 through July 2021, vaccines won’t be available to all Montanans until late spring or early summer.

Currently, the state is moving through Phase 1a, which targets frontline health-care workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities. Thus far, nearly 17,000 health-care personnel have received their first doses.

A news release from Gov. Steve Bullock’s office states that phase has been expanded to include additional health-care workers with direct patient contact such as dentists, orthodontists, physical therapists, optometrists and others.

“As the first phase of Montana’s COVID-19 vaccination plan is fully underway, 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,” Bullock said. “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.”

IN FLATHEAD County, Kalispell Regional Medical Center received more than 1,500 doses of the vaccine during Phase 1a of distribution. About 1,000 of those individuals were immunized with the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and another 700 received the Moderna vaccine.

Distribution efforts at North Valley Hospital began Dec. 22, shortly after the hospital received 400 doses of the Moderna vaccine. North Valley spokeswoman Riley Polumbus said the last of those doses were administered around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. She said North Valley officials are now regrouping to create a list of any remaining employees that still need the vaccine and will request more from the state if additional immunizations are needed.

Polumbus, along with Kalispell Regional spokeswoman Mellody Sharpton, said the hospitals anticipate the second doses of the dual-dose COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in January and will be administered shortly thereafter. Depending on the vaccine, employees will receive their second dose either three or four weeks after they received their first dose.

THE STATE’S distribution plan estimates Phase 1a will be complete by the end of February. That includes first and second doses for frontline health-care workers at high risk of infection and long-term care facilities.

When Phase 1a is complete, the state will then transition to Phase 1b, which is slated to launch as early as mid-January and will continue through March. During that leg, the state aims to immunize those 75 years of age or older, frontline essential workers, individuals residing in congregate care and correctional facilities and American Indians and other people of color considered high risk for infection.

Included in the list of frontline essential workers are first responders, education and child-care workers, those in food and agriculture, grocery store workers and United States Postal Service personnel. All told, this portion of the distribution plan will include approximately 90,000 Montanans.

The final segment of Phase 1 will begin in mid-March and will last through July 15. Known as Phase 1c, that group includes approximately 171,000 individuals that are 65 or older, people ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions that make them high risk and another pool of essential workers. For this distribution round, essential workers include those that work in transportation and logistics, food service, finance, public safety, energy, legal services and media personnel.

Finally, beginning July 2021, all remaining Montanans ages 16 and older can begin receiving the vaccine. The plan does not provide an estimated deadline for when all remaining and willing Montanans might be vaccinated, but says it will “remain an ongoing effort.”

STATE OFFICIALS said Wednesday that implementation of the plan is contingent on vaccine availability. Bekki Wehner with the Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau at Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), said in a prepared statement that distribution to additional groups beyond the high-risk health-care employee group will vary from community to community depending on how many immunizations are available and how quickly those can be distributed.

“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,” Wehner said.

The state health department, which is leading the distribution efforts, adopted its vaccine priority recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices , which recently released expanded guidelines for vaccine allocation to additional critical populations. The recommendations, which have been communicated to local health jurisdictions, are supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well.

Immunization shipments enter Montana through state and federal allocations. According to state officials, this week’s allocation will include 6,825 doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech and 6,400 doses of the one created by Moderna. In the coming days those doses will be shipped to pharmacies that assist long-term care facilities, hospitals, community health centers, local and county tribal health departments and others.

State officials say vaccinations begin this week for many of Montana’s 300 long-term care facilities, including both nursing homes and assisted-living centers. Those efforts are being managed through a federal government contract with CVS, Walgreens and Big Sky Managed Care Pharmacy to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccination services.

Since distribution efforts began, more than 34,000 doses from the state allocation have been sent to 10 major hospitals, 80 critical access hospitals and community health centers and three tribal governments that chose to receive them.

Tribal governments, Urban Indian Health Centers and other Indian Health Services sites were given the opportunity to receive their allocation through federal or state channels. According to state officials, five of Montana’s eight tribal governments, all Urban Indian Health Centers and all Indian Health Service sites chose to get their allocations from Indian Health Services.