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Gallatin County will expand its vaccination efforts next week by offering doses to adults over 70, Native Americans, other people of color and those ages 16 to 69 with certain underlying health conditions — a category known as Group 1B.

This week, the Gallatin City-County Health Department started providing doses to adults over 80 and had planned to expand eligibility to others in Group 1B as more vaccine became available.

However, Health Officer Matt Kelley said Friday the county’s vaccine task force, which includes about 18 people from health care organizations, local governments and businesses, decided to revise the distribution plan.

“The first thing is we had a chance to start to give vaccines to that older age category. … The second thing that factored into it was we just wanted to be unified with where the state is,” Kelley said. “It was creating some confusion. We felt like it was time to open it up.”

Under the new plan, Bozeman Health will dispense 1,170 doses next week to its patients over 80 along with Native Americans and other people of color, said Incident Commander Kallie Kujawa. The health system is reaching out to patients directly to schedule appointments.

Montana State University is contacting students in Group 1B and will be holding an immunization clinic next week, Kelley said.

Even though the county is now offering the vaccine to more people, Kelley emphasized that doesn’t mean more vaccine is available.

“There just isn’t enough vaccine right now,” Kelley said. “We’re all doing the best we can. We are getting the vaccine administered in a timely way, in a safe way and, I think, in a transparent way, but the fact of the matter is we just don’t have enough to go around.”

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a Friday afternoon press conference that the supply of vaccine doses is a major constraint on Montana’s vaccine rollout.

“We’re making progress, but we need a greater supply of vaccines from the federal government,” Gianforte said. “It’s absolutely critical that we get more supply to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.”

Gianforte sent a letter to President Joe Biden, a Democrat, on Thursday, requesting Montana begin receiving more doses each week.

Dr. Greg Holzman, the state medical officer, said the federal government has provided an increasing number of doses each week, but the state is still receiving a smaller supply than it would like.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells the state on Tuesdays how many doses Montana will receive for the following week. The state then works with local public health authorities to distribute the doses.

Bozeman Health, MSU, the health department and Community Health Partners are coordinating vaccine distribution as well as the scheduling of individuals in Group 1B for immunizations. Residents may also check the health department website or sign up for text message alerts by messaging ‘Phase1b’ to 888777 to receive updates on vaccines.

As the county expands eligibility, the health department, pharmacies and health care organizations continue to provide first and second doses to frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities — known as Group 1A.

As of Friday, the state had administered 99,248 doses with 24,519 Montanans fully immunized, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Going forward, the county expects to receive about 1,300 doses each week, Kelley said. It will take months before all 114,000 county residents can be immunized.

“We still are weeks and months away from the point in time when we can get back to what we would think about as normal,” he said.

The vaccination work comes as COVID-19 cases are declining in Gallatin County.

This week, the seven-day rolling average of daily cases was 35.3 per 100,000 residents, a 30% drop from the previous week.

The positivity rate has come down to 5%, in part, due to a surveillance testing program in Big Sky. Excluding the Big Sky data, the positivity rate was 8%.

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are also declining. They were largely in the single-digits this week, reducing pressure on Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and Big Sky Medical Center.

Even though cases are declining, Kelley urged people to continue to take COVID-19 seriously particularly because the number of deaths nationwide remains high and new variants are emerging that may cause the disease to spread more easily.

“Now is not the time to let up,” he said. “Now is the time really to keep going.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.