Support Local Journalism


Local public health officials have raised concerns about recent revisions to the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which prioritizes people over 70 and those between ages 16 and 69 with specific underlying health conditions over some essential workers and those living in group settings.

The vaccination of older and more vulnerable Montanans could begin this month after the state finishes providing doses to frontline health care workers.

Health Officer Matt Kelley said Thursday the changes to the distribution plan leave some key groups waiting longer to receive the vaccine. As a result, the Gallatin City-County Health Department is exploring whether it can deviate from the state plan.

Delaying vaccinations of people in congregate settings, particularly jails, prisons and homes for adults with developmental disabilities, worries Kelley because of their history of COVID-19 outbreaks.

He also questioned moving teachers and child care workers, both considered essential workers, farther down the priority list.

“Those are people that we’re asking to go into settings where there’s often not adequate social distancing and where they’re serving young people who have very variable ability to keep a face covering on,” Kelley said. “… I personally feel like it would be advantageous not just to the teachers and the kids and the parents but to the economy to be able to offer vaccines to any teacher who’s working in a setting like that.”

Buck Taylor, a member of the local health board and the county’s vaccine planning group, said he would like to find a way for Gallatin County to vaccinate educators sooner.

Kelley said he had worried that first responders might not receive a vaccine for months under the state’s revised plan. However, state officials have clarified that first responders are included in phase one, which focuses on frontline health care workers.

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte announced the changes to the state vaccine plan on Tuesday.

Gianforte said he wanted to protect Montanans who are at an elevated risk for COVID-19 complications. He also pointed out that those in congregate settings and essential workers who are elderly or have conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus will now be in the second round of vaccinations.

The second phase still includes Native Americans and other people of color at greater risk for COVID-19.

Kelley said the health department is looking to also focus on others at higher risk due to environmental or socio-economic factors, such as people who are uninsured or are experiencing homelessness.

“Whenever we provide vaccine, (we’ll think) about who we’re missing (and) who’s being underserved,” he said.

Gianforte’s revisions to the distribution plan increase the number of people eligible for a vaccine in phase two.

Under the former plan, developed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, 90,000 Montanans were in the second phase, called 1B. The new plan includes 250,000 to 300,000 in 1B.

“Our allocations are not going to grow proportionally to the number of people that are becoming eligible for the vaccine,” Kelley said. “The governor did raise some expectations with this bigger group of 1B. We don’t have the vaccine to be able to get to all those people. We’re still trying to figure out how we might chunk that up. It might be by age. We’re going to try to make sure we have an even geographic spread. It’s going to be a significant challenge.”

He added that even if only half of those who are eligible want to be vaccinated, it could take months to receive enough supply to meet the demand.

With more people to be vaccinated in the second phase, Kelley is concerned about having adequate staff to administer the vaccine.

He hopes additional health care agencies can begin to provide vaccinations, which he said could help prevent a staffing shortage.

For now, the health department, Montana State University, Community Health Partners and Bozeman Health have received state and federal approval to accept vaccine shipments and to administer doses to frontline health care workers. National pharmacy companies, like CVS and Walgreens, are also immunizing residents of local long-term care facilities.

The health department has received 900-1,300 doses and hopes to receive more next week. These doses are earmarked for frontline health care workers.

Bozeman Health received 2,475 doses, which is going to employees and first responders from agencies including Montana Highway Patrol, Belgrade Police and Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, according to spokesperson Lauren Brendel.

Bozeman Health has begun administering second doses to employees who received their first doses in December.

Community Health Partners received 200 doses for its employees and first responders in West Yellowstone.

Gallatin County will likely finish offering vaccines to frontline health care workers in the coming weeks.

The state, which is orchestrating vaccine distribution, is set to begin the next phase of vaccination later this month.

Support Local Journalism

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

Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.

Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.