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With more questions than answers at this point, Gallatin County officials are laying the groundwork for widespread novel coronavirus vaccine distribution.

Several vaccines are on their way to being rolled out, including a vaccine from the company Pfizer that is on track to receive emergency FDA approval and be distributed to health care workers at 10 Montana hospitals, including nearly 1,000 doses to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday he expects thousands of more vaccine doses to reach Montana by the end of the year, but when doses will become available to the general public is unclear.

“This is going to be a complicated, really major national effort to get these vaccines to the people who want them. We’re working hard on that but these are going to be choppy waters and we’re going to need everyone’s patience,” county health officer Matt Kelley said during a Thursday health board meeting. “We’re not getting full information in regards to the question that everybody wants to know is, how many doses will we be getting and when. We don’t know that.”

Bullock is prioritizing health care providers and long-term care facilities with the first rounds of vaccine shipments, and Kelley said he expects federal guidelines will be passed down through the state.

“We’ll get the broad brush strokes from the feds, the states will put a little bit more detail on it … at the local level we’ll be really painting in the infinite detail,” Kelley said.

Though he noted that the county will not be the only entity giving out vaccines, Kelley said they are adding staffing and forming plans for widespread vaccinations.

The county has also formed an incident command team, Kelley said, including Gallatin County Emergency Management chief Patrick Lonergan and Bozeman Fire Department deputy chief Mike Maltaverne, who is the incident commander.

Maltaverne said they are partially relying on existing plans they have for mass immunizations. With multiple types of expected vaccines that require two separate doses with different storage requirements and availability, Maltaverne said the logistics will be challenging.

“If we’ve got 110,000 to 120,000 residents in the county and anybody who wants one of those vaccines is going to have to come into contact with health care providers, the logistics to pull that off is going to be rather complex, and it’s going to involve a lot of planning,” Maltaverne said.

Lonergan said they are likely to use buildings at the fairgrounds as a centralized vaccination station and are working with first-responder agencies throughout the county on possibly setting up immunization stations at fire stations.

In addition to which vaccines might be available, Lonergan said there are other unknowns, like who may be able to administer the vaccine and what the supply will be like. Scheduling will also be an issue, Lonergan said, as they don’t want to have people crowded in line or standing outside for long periods in the cold, or have supplies run out while people are still waiting.

“We don’t know that we’ll have a sustained supply,” Lonergan said. “There might be periods where we don’t have anything to administer.”

The county is hoping to get access to software that will help streamline scheduling, Lonergan said, and are working on the logistics to make the rollout as “painless as possible” for the county.

Kelley said working with fire departments around the county will allow them to reach a broad geographical area. After health board member Christopher Coburn raised concerns about equity, Kelley said they will work to ensure they are reaching underserved people.

Though the news of the vaccine is encouraging, the officials all urged that patience will be key, as will following health guidelines in the meantime.

People should not have the expectation that vaccinations will happen quickly, Maltaverne said.

“We’ve all been waiting months for some type of silver bullet or something to look forward to,” Maltaverne said. “There’s going to be some dry spells. Those shipments of the vaccine are going to come in bulk loads. They’re not going to be available to everybody in the county immediately. So one of the challenges is we may not be moving at the pace people like us to, but our hands are tied and we’re just waiting for the vaccines to show up.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at or 406-582-2607.