Vax

A University of Montana pharmacy student fills doses of the Moderna vaccine in April at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman.

Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


As sign-ups for COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds taper off, local health officials are starting to get creative to increase immunization rates in the county.

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines overwhelmed systems in and around Bozeman for months before an increase in supply opened the door in recent weeks for many to get appointments. But as those who sought vaccines have gotten access, local health leaders say the challenge now is how to vaccinate those who haven’t been able to get a shot or who haven’t wanted to.

“It feels relatively new to be in this place where we’ve transitioned from overwhelming demand to needing to change strategies to …. make vaccines more available to populations who haven’t yet had the chance,” said Community Health Partners CEO Lander Cooney. “Just like with everything in the pandemic I think we’re going to keep learning and keep adjusting our approach.”

Cooney and other local health officials said the challenge is two-fold. Some people haven’t been able to get a vaccine because of their work hours or lack of transportation to clinics.

Convenience and access may not be the issue for others who don’t trust the vaccine, are hesitant to get it or who just don’t think they need it.

County Health Officer Matt Kelley said during a press conference Friday that the health department is focusing on getting people to sign up for clinics at the fairgrounds. But public health officials are also working on other strategies as demand there decreases.

About a quarter of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, Kelley said, though those rates increase in older populations.

The county estimates over 90% of people 80 and older have been vaccinated.

But, according to numbers Kelley gave Friday, only about a third of people in their 20s have been vaccinated.

“It’ll be important to get people in their 20s vaccinated. We’re seeing that (age group) is driving transmission,” Kelley said. “My fear though is, you know, for some of the same reasons that we’re seeing transmission in those age groups we might see some lack of urgency to go out and get that shot.”

Cooney said CHP is working closely with local public health departments to make the vaccine more conveniently available to people.

“We’re all going to have to get a little more creative,” Cooney said.

Some have taken that creativity to heart. As the sun broke through Friday afternoon, people lined up outside of Bozeman Brewing Company for a vaccine clinic run by Pharm406 out of Billings.

The deal was pretty good: Pharm406 was offering either first or second doses of the Moderna vaccine and paying for a free beer.

Todd Scott, Bozeman Brewing owner, said having a clinic at a place where people already gather seemed like a good idea.

“It’s a social hub, and so wherever there’s going to be people gathered is a good place to do things that need to be done with society. Whether it’s conversation, or lawmaking or solving all the world’s problems, a brewery seems to be a good place to do it,” Scott said.

Dozens of people took the offer. Unable to find a first-dose appointment in Bozeman, Connor Ebert, 22, and Derek Schreiner, 23, both drove to Billings a few weeks ago to get their first shots at Pharm406.

They heard about Friday’s clinic from a friend and from social media and decided being spared from the drive east for a second shot and getting a free beer was worth it.

“I think it’s a good incentive to get people out here,” Ebert said. “I definitely have a few friends that were like ‘Oh! Free beer? Alright.’ ”

Pharm406 owner Kyle Austin held a similar clinic last weekend at Bozeman Ford.

Tracy Knoedler, human services director at Gallatin City-County Health Department, said clinics spread throughout the community help make the vaccine more convenient for people.

The county is planning a clinic in May after typical work hours to make shots accessible for those who work 9-5 jobs they can’t get away from, Knoedler said. Health officials are also starting to work with business owners to get their employees vaccinated.

With the summer tourist season right around the corner, Knoedler said they will focus on vaccinating those who work in the hospitality or service industry.

Seasonal workers or people moving into the area for just a few months will also have access to the vaccine, Knoedler said.

“We want employers to understand how critical it is to a successful tourist season to have their employees protected,” Knoedler said. “Our philosophy is if you’re in our community and interacting with people in our community we are happy to immunize you.”

Bozeman Health is also working to vaccinate seasonal workers in Big Sky, System Director of Primary Care Clinics Caryl Perdaems said, doing clinics at job sites.

Other hard-to-reach populations include those who don’t have reliable transportation or who live in a remote area, Perdaems said. The health system is using its health care connections bus to bring vaccines to people, and sending clinicians to vaccinate people who are homebound.

“I think this work is ongoing, it’s part of everything we’ve been doing since December, identifying points to make impact with the community,” Perdaems said.

With boosters expected to be a part of COVID-19 immunization efforts moving forward, Bozeman Health is already preparing for the need for another round of vaccinations late this year and early next year.

“I think we just need to normalize it for our patients as part of their visits,” Perdaems said.

The health system is also working to reach people who may not trust the vaccine.

Spokesperson Lauren Brendel said the health system is working with Gallatin County to educate people about the vaccine in a campaign that will ramp up in a few weeks.

Anyone with questions should to reach out to their primary care providers or other trusted information sources. More information is at healthygallatin.org or bozemanhealth.org/vaccine.

Kelley urged people to think about getting vaccinated sooner rather than later.

{p dir=”ltr”}”We have a chance for a much more normal summer, to enjoy a summer that is much different from the last one we had. But one of the biggest variables in that is how many people get vaccinated,” Kelley said.

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.